Is the Trinity pagan?


Pagan Affinities
Alexander Hislop
Changing God
Masked Gods
Hindu Modalist Trinity
Jehovah's Witnesses
Isis, Osiris and Typhon
Zeus, Hera, and Athena
At Random
Jupiter, Mars and Venus
Bus Herds

Apotheosis, Roman

  • "Many clergymen follow the pagans in believing in a trinity."
  • (New Heavens and A New Earth, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., 1953, p. 36).

Pagan Affinities

The Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. But wait, Justin Martyr says, so was Perseus:

"And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 22.)

...or does he? He tells Trypho the tale about Perseus was a demonic counterfeit:

“'And when I hear, Trypho,' said I, 'that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.'” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 70).

Far from being an admirer of Gentile culture, Justin was a counter-cultural 'drop-out:' "Do not suppose, ye Greeks, that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God. For the very compositions of your poets are monuments of madness and intemperance." (Justin Martyr, Discourse to the Greeks, Chapter 1.) He is writing in an environment where the profession of Christianity invited a death sentence. When asked to justify their laws, the pagans criticized Christianity on a variety of grounds: it is unreasonable to believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc. Justin pointed out that, if believing these gospel claims merited the death penalty, then those who believed similar pagan claims must also deserve death. This legal argument can be easily misunderstood or misrepresented as if Justin were arguing for the gospel because it recalled pagan tales.

The pagans told stories of virgin births and resurrected heroes. To Christians, it is not surprising these stories should be told; Christ is the desire of nations:

"And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts." (Haggai 2:7).

All mankind are waiting to hear His story. Those who are not so situated in time and place as to hear it as fact, will tell it to one another as fiction. Those hostile to the Christian cause use these likenesses to discredit the gospels. They allege the gospel writers report Jesus to have been born of a virgin, not because they heard Mary's factual report, but because they had heard the same said of Perseus, Dionysus and other fictitious personages.

Several Christian ordinances, like baptism and communion, show real analogies to pagan practice. There are differences alongside the similarities; looked at in detail, Danae and Semele are not virgin mothers, but two more notches on Zeus' belt. This pagan deity blazed a long career as serial rapist. No one but Brigham Young can find the similarity there!

The doctrine of the trinity is one Christian teaching for which one can find no real pagan analogue. Such resemblances as appear are found, upon analysis, to be analogues rather of heretical versions of the doctrine, especially modalism. Practitioners of comparative religion whose first principles require all Christian doctrine to be derivative of paganism forge onward nonetheless, offering as analogue for the Trinity three pagan gods with a working or familial relationship. This is not so much a case where the differences outweigh the similarities, as a case of no similarity at all, because the Trinity is not three gods who enjoy a working or familial relationship!

Alexander Hislop

The theory, wildly popular with the new religious movements, that the doctrine of the Trinity is of pagan origin, quotes as authority nineteenth century enthusiast Alexander Hislop. But Alexander Hislop did not teach the pagan origin of the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, Hislop believed the Trinity to be an accurate description of the divine nature, taught in the book of Genesis: "While overlaid with idolatry, the recognition of a Trinity was universal in all the ancient nations of the world, proving how deep-rooted in the human race was the primeval doctrine on this subject, which comes out so distinctly in Genesis." (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Chapter II, Section 1).

Hislop uniquely combines the theosophist's faith that, at bottom, all religions teach the same thing with the Bible's fierce intolerance of paganism. It was not to discredit the virgin birth that Hislop listed virgin mothers known to pagan mythology, nor to discountenance Christian baptism that he portrayed the ancient Babylonians as baptismal regenerationists. He thought the pagans believed these things in reminiscence of the true doctrine God Himself had taught the patriarchs: "What can account for the marvellous unity in all the idolatrous systems of the world, but that the facts recorded in the early chapters of Genesis were real transactions, in which, as all mankind were involved, so all mankind have preserved in their various systems, distinct and undeniable memorials of them, though those who have preserved them have long lost the true key to their meaning?" (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Conclusion). He thought this primeval common truth had been dragged downward toward idolatry in pagan systems, among which he included "baptised Paganism," Roman Catholicism. Because the Bible shows Adam communing with God, polytheism must be a devolution from mankind's original monotheistic faith. Assuming the descent from the heights to the depths must be gradual, Hislop asserted the pagan nations held a faith not far from that of the patriarchs. Hislop understood that, for the ancient Babylonians accurately to be described as 'Trinitarians', they must have been monotheists who believed in one triune God. That's just what he thought they were!:

"The ancient Babylonians, just as the modern Romans, recognised in words the unity of the Godhead; and, while worshipping innumerable minor deities, as possessed of certain influence on human affairs, they distinctly acknowledged that there was ONE infinite and almighty Creator, supreme over all. Most other nations did the same.
"'In the early ages of mankind,' says Wilkinson in his 'Ancient Egyptians,' 'The existence of a sole and omnipotent Deity, who created all things, seems to have been the universal belief; and tradition taught men the same notions on this subject, which, in later times, have been adopted by all civilised nations." (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Chapter II, Section I).

Archaeology reveals, contrary to Hislop, that the ancient Babylonians failed to recognize either in word or deed "the unity of the Godhead." Mankind's descent into polytheism was precipitous, not gradual; the doctrine was first proposed in the Garden: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods..." (Genesis 3:5). Hislop's followers today substitute for his erroneous perception of Babylonian monotheism the archaeologically correct view that the Babylonians were polytheists - then sail right onward with Hislop's conclusions, as if they had not eviscerated his argument!

Hislop found evidence of his Babylonian Trinity in the "equilateral triangle" the Babylonians employed as symbol of the god Marduk. Calmer souls see it as a hoe: "...the representation of the supreme Babylonian god Marduk by a triangular-headed spade or hoe (marru) might echo an original agricultural association of the deity..." (Ancient Mesopotamian Religious Iconography, Anthony Green, p. 1841, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East). Attached to the 'triangle' is a highly visible handle (Figure 8, below):

Principal symbols of deities
Principal symbols of deities, Figure 1, p. 1838,
"Ancient Mesopotamian Religious Iconography," Anthony Green

The people of this area did use a triangular-headed hoe. Agricultural implements are often associated with pagan deities; Dagon, mentioned in the Bible, had the plow as emblem. There is a plow adjacent to Marduk's hoe, figure 9. The 'ancient Babylonians' described by Hislop: Trinitarian baptismal regenerationists who worshipped a Madonna and child,--are unknown to archaeologists. Hislop's modern readers invert his claims: instead of agreeing with Hislop that the pagans worshipped a Trinity, degraded by the addition of visual imagery, because they learned it from the patriarchs who learned it from God, they assert the opposite: that the pagans originated the doctrine.

This misreading is enabled by readers' difficulty in fathoming Hislop's motivation. Anti-catholicism is plainly one motive. Perhaps he was incensed at the recent papal proclamation of Mary's 'immaculate conception,' because sinlessness is, Biblically, the prerogative of our Lord. To the peace-makers who interrupted his anti-Catholic tirades with, 'Yes, but they worship the same God as we; they are trinitarians,' his response was, 'So what, so were the Babylonians.' The problem is, they weren't.

Changing God for Changing Times

The third century modalist Sabellius proclaimed a changing god for changing times, who was the Father in the Old Testament period, walked on earth as the Son in the incarnation, then morphed into the Holy Spirit for the church age. The paradigm of a god with multiple 'manifestations' is the oldest pagan idea in the book. The gods of the pagans were morphing gods, which is why Ovid's digest of mythology is called 'Metamorphoses.'

The child's dilemma of a Santa Claus in every mall troubled the pagan theologians. Every city had its tutelary deities. Were these all different gods, result of a population explosion in heaven, or could their tangled profusion be pared down by classifying lesser lights as 'manifestations' of the principal gods? To tidy up their bulging pantheons, pagan theologians brought together gods from different territories under the model of multiple 'manifestations' of one god. The modalists adopted this pagan paradigm, simplifying the Christian God who is, ever was, and ever will be, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into a God who from time to time 'manifests' Himself to man under these various aliases.

The morphing pagan gods were worshipped under many names, many 'manifestations':

"'Behold, Lucius,' she said, 'moved by your prayer I come to you - I, the natural mother of all life, the mistress of the elements, the first child of time, the supreme divinity, the queen of those in hell, the first among those in heaven, the uniform manifestation of all gods and goddesses - I, who govern by my nod the crests of light in the sky, the purifying wafts of the ocean, and the lamentable silences of hell -- I, whose single godhead is venerated all over the earth under manifold forms, varying rites, and changing names.'" (from Apuleius, The Golden Ass, Book 11, quoted p. 179, The Ancient Mysteries, Marvin W. Meyer, Editor).

The gods manifested themselves under a bewildering array of appearances, none exhaustive nor genuine. And manifest themselves they did, oblivious to modern skepticism:

"And she stood over against the door of the hut, showing herself to Odysseus, but Telemachus did not see her before him, or notice her; for in no wise do the gods appear in manifest presence to all." (Homer, Odyssey, Book 16, line 155).
"I wish first and foremost to propitiate the great goddess Athena, who manifested herself visibly to me during yesterday's festivities." (Homer, The Odyssey, Book 3, line 418).
"But if Achilles learn not this from some voice of the gods, he shall have dread hereafter when some god shall come against him in battle; for hard are the gods to look upon when they appear in manifest presence." (Homer, Iliad, Book 20, line 125).

But what is at issue here is not the living God manifesting Himself sequentially in various forms. The living God does not change:

Masked Gods

Because the pagan gods were morphing gods who could appear in any form or 'manifestation' at any time, the unlucky mortal might encounter a 'masked' god, only to realize the visitant's identity too late:

"'Antinoos, you did badly to hit the unhappy vagabond; a curse on you, if he turns out to be some god from heaven. For the gods do take on all sorts of transformations, appearing as strangers from elsewhere, and thus they range at large through the cities, watching to see which men keep the laws, and which are violent.'" (Homer, Odyssey, Book XVII, 483-487).

Moderns might expect the pagan gods, being non-existent, were seldom seen. Nothing could be further from the truth:

"By the early third century, the presence of the pagan gods was clearly attested in a question and answer, set up on stone on the edge of the city of Miletus. The question had been put to Apollo himself by Alexandra, priestess of Demeter, near whose shrine, then, the stone is likely to have been displayed before it was found on the hill outside the city. 'Ever since she has taken on the priesthood,' the stone said, 'the gods have been appearing in visitations as never before, to the girls and women but also, too, to men and children. What does such a thing mean? Is it a sign of something good?'" (Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, Seeing the Gods, p. 103).

It was hard to avoid stumbling across a pagan god, because the amazing morphing gods of the pagans could appear in any form or 'manifestation' at all. The ever-changing Proteus might appear as a man, a flame of fire, or a tree:

"His various arts he soon resumes in aid; A lion now, he curls a surgy mane; Sudden our hands a spotted pard restrain; Then, arm'd with tusks, and lightning in his eyes, A boar's obscener shape the god belies; On spiry volumes, there a dragon rides; Here, from our strict embrace a stream he glides. At last, sublime, his stately growth he rears A tree, and well-dissembled foliage wears." (Homer; Pope, Alexander. The Odyssey, Book IV, (p. 68). Kindle Edition.)

Every eagle soaring high in the sky, every bunny rabbit hopping through the meadow, or snake slithering across the rock, might be a god. You never knew. Dusty travellers might be gods in disguise: "And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes." (Acts 14:12-13). Because the morphing pagan gods could appear in any 'manifestation' at any time, the pagans never knew what to look for, and were ever jumping the gun, worshipping the random traveler over his distressed protests.

Consequently the pagans feared encountering a god who wouldn't reveal who he was, leaving mankind to perish unless they could guess the riddle hidden in a parable or in a Bible puzzler like the baptismal passages of Acts. The fear of stumbling across a 'hidden' god who refused to identify himself until too late was a daily terror of the pagan peoples of classical antiquity. Here's a scary and strange example, from the Homeric hymns:

(ll. 1-16) "I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian pirates on a well-decked ship -- a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway, put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said:
(ll. 17-24) "'Madmen! What god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.'
(ll. 25-31) "So said he: but the master chid him with taunting words: 'Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him...'
(ll. 32-54) "When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it...But the god changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly...And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysus had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him:
(ll. 55-57) "'Take courage, good...; you have found favor with my heart. I am loud-crying Dionysus whom Cadmus' daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.'" (Homeric Hymns, VII. To Dionysus)

Too bad they didn't solve the puzzle in time. You only get one chance at at this before the buzzer sounds and the game is over.

Sound familiar?: a disguised, 'masked' god who won't come out and tell us who He is? Yet disaster awaits those who can't guess the riddle! You will sometimes hear 'Oneness' Pentecostals talk of a Jesus who 'prayed' after the fashion of someone who 'talks on the telephone' while holding down the button; there was no one on the line, He only wished to set an example, praying to be "seen of men." They say that He spoke only in parables, masking His true identity under the riddle of Matthew 28:19. Verses in Acts referring to baptism in a telegraphic manner must be decoded to understand who He really is, which to them means God the Father. But this is not what He said: "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." (John 15:15).

Children of the King, leaning on the ever-lasting arms, rest safe and secure from all alarms. This idea of a divine visitant who poses a riddle for humanity to decode,— and if you fail in your sleuthing, you are doomed— is uncomfortably close to the abundant pagan paradigms. Jesus' self-revelation is not a barrier to understanding who He is, but a revelation: " you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?" (John 10:36); "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (Matthew 27:43).

Pagan fears die hard, and with the concept of disguised riddler gods still engraved in their hearts, might some third-century readers of these passages have wondered, 'Is that all there is to it? Or did He still conceal from us who He really is — the Father?' Was modalist monarchianism born from the deep-seated pagan fear that God had walked amongst men, yet had not come clean about who He really is? because to them, He is God the Father, though He did not say so. The Bible never says this, instead the Bible-reader must decode a puzzle the apostles left in the Book of Acts to find this out.

But this approach can be ruled out, given God's character. God's children can laugh at pagan terrors. Our Lord is the Truth: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6). There is no guile in Him: "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth..." (1 Peter 2:22). We can safely take Him at His word, not peering behind what He told us, anxiously seeking the real truth about His identity, which He, like Dionysos, preferred to conceal until it was too late. He told us who He is: "Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, 'Do you believe in the Son of God? He answered and said, 'Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in him?' And Jesus said unto him, 'You have both seen him, and it is He who is talking with you.'" (John 9:35-37).

Thus you can argue, and in the end the resemblance between modalism and paganism affords a tighter fit than that found between any 'pagan trinity' and the real thing. But in the end, who will be convinced by it? Not the modalist, who, glancing between the various shape-shifting pagan gods, recognizes no familiar face. There's a principle that's similar, which is a plus because there isn't even that with the 'pagan trinities.' But in detail, there is no precise correspondence; the pagans are not talking about 'the Father' and 'the Son.' Probably there's a better way to discuss these differences than to find pagan parallels, which can be found for pretty much everything.

Hindu Modalist Trinity

One popular example of a 'pagan trinity' is the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Hindus do at times describe these three multiply-named gods as one god. But wait a minute: does this pagan deity eternally subsist as these three...or does he 'morph' from one form to another, slipping into the phone booth to change from Brahma (Creator) to Vishnu (Preserver), then when he tires of preserving and decides to kick the whole sand castle to pieces, Shiva (Destroyer)? According to the Puranas, he's another incredible modalist morphing god: a changing god for changing times:

"At the end of a thousand periods of four Ages, when the earth's surface is for the most part wasted, there arises a dreadful drought that lasts for a hundred years. Then all these earthly beings whose strength has declined perish completely through oppression. And so the imperishable lord Vishnu, who abides in himself, adopts the form of Rudra, and exerts himself to act in order to destroy all creatures. [...] When everything movable and immovable in the world has perished in the watery darkness, these vast clouds pour down rain for another one hundred years. So is it as the end of every Eon, O excellent seer, by the majesty of the eternal Vasudeva, the supreme Lord. [...] Wind blown out of Vishnu's mouth makes the clouds disappear in a hundred years. When the eternal lord, fashioner of all creatures, inconceivable, the condition of creation, the beginning of everything who has no beginning himself, has entirely consumed the wind, then, reposing on Sesa in the single ocean, the lord, first creator, rests in the form of Brahma, praised by Sanaka and others...A day of Brahma, born of the lotus, lasts a thousand periods of four Ages; a night, when the world is destroyed and made into a vast ocean, is of the same length. At the end of the night, Vishnu, unborn, having awakened, takes the form of Brahma in order to create, as it has already been told to you." (Classical Hindu Mythology, quoted pp. 82-84, David Adams Leeming, The World of Myth).

It's hard not to agree that, "These were not persons, but modes of manifestation." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 4676). Moreover, these three deities are incorporated in the One on the same basis as are we, the planets, the sun, the moon, and the stars, as well as the chicken crossing the road. All things are one, these three gods included. Any adherent of philosophical monism will find himself making statements of the form, 'x, y, and z are one.' But this has little or nothing to do with the transcendent Christian God and His triunity.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca


Was Plato a trinitarian? No less a theologian than Clement of Alexandria says that he was...even going so far as to accuse him of plagiarizing the idea from Moses!:

"Let us add in completion what follows, and exhibit now with greater clearness the plagiarism of the Greeks from the Barbarian [Hebrew] philosophy. [...] And the address in the Timaeus calls the creator, Father, speaking thus: “Ye gods of gods, of whom I am Father; and the Creator of your works.” So that when he says, “Around the king of all, all things are, and because of Him are all things; and he [or that] is the cause of all good things; and around the second are the things second in order; and around the third, the third,” I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book V, Chapter 14).

Plato does call God 'Father,' as do many pagan authors. The gnomic quotation about the first, second and third is from Plato's letter to Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse to whom Plato had attached himself. (This 'odd couple' seems more plausible once one realizes Plato's Republic is a blueprint for a totalitarian regime. This letter is commonly considered spurious.) After various recriminations and excuses, Plato goes on to say,

"As to the globe, there is something wrong with it; and Archedemus will point it out to you when he arrives. There is also another matter--much more valuable and divine than the globe--which he most certainly must explain, as you were puzzled about it when you sent him. For, according to his report, you say that you have not had a sufficient demonstration of the doctrine concerning the nature of “the First.” Now I must expound it to you in a riddling way in order that, should the tablet come to any harm “in folds of ocean or of earth,” he that readeth may not understand.

"The matter stands thus: Related to the King of All are all things, and for his sake they are, and of all things fair He is the cause. And related to the Second are the second things and related to the Third the third. About these, then, the human soul strives to learn, looking to the things that are akin to itself, whereof none is fully perfect. But as to the King and the objects I have mentioned, they are of quite different quality." (Plato, Letter to Dionysius tyrant of Syracuse).

Failing Clement's correction, "...for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father," is this the Christian trinity? Notice that Plato says the first, "the King of All," is the cause of "all things fair" or good. Who or what, then, is the cause of not-so-good things? According to the Timaeus, it's the lesser gods, who are themselves created beings:

"Now, when all of them, both those who visibly appear in their revolutions as well as those other gods who are of a more retiring nature, had come into being, the creator of the universe addressed them in these words: 'Gods, children of gods, who are my works, and of whom I am the artificer and father...And now listen to my instructions:--Three tribes of mortal beings remain to be created--without them the universe will be incomplete, for it will not contain every kind of animal which it ought to contain, if it is to be perfect. On the other hand, if they were created by me and received life at my hands, they would be on an equality with the gods. In order then that they may be mortal, and that this universe may be truly universal, do ye, according to your natures, betake yourselves to the formation of animals, imitating the power which was shown by me in creating you. The part of them worthy of the name immortal, which is called divine and is the guiding principle of those who are willing to follow justice and you--of that divine part I will myself sow the seed, and having made a beginning, I will hand the work over to you. And do ye then interweave the mortal with the immortal, and make and beget living creatures, and give them food, and make them to grow, and receive them again in death.'" (Plato, Timaeus, 41).

The 'mortal' part of man consists of the passions of the soul, love and hate, plus the body and those appetites focused on the body. According to Timaeus, those individuals who congregate around these lower things are reborn as animals or women, whereas those who ascend to the higher, divine things attain immortality and dwell in the company of the stars. The Bible, as indicated in Clement's correction, teaches that the one uncreated God created all things by His word and spirit. Plato teaches that the one uncreated God created some things,--the good stuff, namely heavenly bodies, the Platonic ideas, and the divine spark in man--whereas the not-so-good traces its origin to beings who are themselves created (matter traces its origin to no creator but exists of 'necessity.'). While one can understand the Platonist Clement's desire to correct, the uncorrected schema bears no relation to the trinity. As it stands, the second and third spheres coalesce around beings who are themselves created. However since the quotation is gnomic and presented with no explanatory context its meaning is open to dispute. Given the reference to the astronomic "globe," perhaps Plato like Aristotle identified his first principle with the primum mobile.


Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus described a triune God of consecutive 'emanations': the One, inexpressible; Mind, or thought-thinking-itself; and World-Soul. While not an exact copy of the Christian trinity, it's in the ball-park. Even here the anti-trinitarians are prone to overstate their case, as is their habit:

"Plotinus not only accepted that theory as applicable to the soul of man, but as affording an illustration of the nature of the Trinity. For, as a beam of light emanates from the sun, and as warmth emanates from the beam when it touches material bodies, so from the Father the Son emanates, and thence the Holy Ghost. From these views Plotinus derived a practical religious system. . ." (John William Draper, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, p. 121).

The unwary reader might conclude Plotinus talked about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which of course is not the case. Still, there is something here: Plotinus was a trinitarian of sorts. Is the resemblance between Plotinus' conception and the Christian trinity a remarkable coincidence? Or a Christian borrowing from the pagans? Well, neither. Plotinus' teacher, Ammonius Saccas, was a Christian apostate, and his right-hand-man, Porphyry, an acquaintance of Christian philosopher Origen. This is a case of Christian influence on pagan thought:

"The Greek philosophers of his age are witnesses to his [Origen's] proficiency in these subjects. We find frequent mention of him in their writings. Sometimes they dedicated their own works to him; again, they submitted their labors to him as a teacher for his judgment. Why need we say these things when even Porphyry, who lived in Sicily in our own times and wrote books against us, attempting to traduce the Divine Scriptures by them, mentions those who have interpreted them; and being unable in any way to find a base accusation against the doctrines, for lack of arguments turns to reviling and calumniating their interpreters, attempting especially to slander Origen, whom he says he knew in his youth. But truly, without knowing it, he commends the man; telling the truth about him in some cases where he could not do otherwise; but uttering falsehoods where he thinks he will not be detected. Sometimes he accuses him as a Christian; again he describes his proficiency in philosophic learning. But hear his own words:
[...] 'As an example of this absurdity take a man whom I met when I was young, and who was then greatly celebrated and still is, on account of the writings which he has left. I refer to Origen, who is highly honored by the teachers of these doctrines. For this man, having been a hearer of Ammonius, who had attained the greatest proficiency in philosophy of any in our day, derived much benefit from his teacher in the knowledge of the sciences; but as to the correct choice of life, he pursued a course opposite to his. For Ammonius, being a Christian, and brought up by Christian parents, when he gave himself to study and to philosophy straightway conformed to the life required by the laws. But Origen, having been educated as a Greek in Greek literature, went over to the barbarian recklessness. And carrying over the learning which he had obtained, he hawked it about, in his life conducting himself as a Christian and contrary to the laws, but in his opinions of material things and of the Deity being like a Greek, and mingling Grecian teachings with foreign fables...'
"These things are said by Porphyry in the third book of his work against the Christians." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 6, Chapter 19).

What system did Christian apostate Ammonius Saccas, the founder of Neoplatonism, propound? No one knows because none of his writings survive (not even Eusebius' claimed 'Harmony of Moses and Jesus'), but I've provided selections from Plotinus' Fifth Ennead in the Thrice Holy library for curious inquirers. Ammianus Marcellinus, a fourth century pagan historian, also mentions him as Plotinus' teacher: "There had lived Aristarchus, that illustrious grammarian. . .and Saccas Ammonius, the master of Plotinus, and many other writers in various useful branches of literature. . ." (Ammianus Marcellinus, History of Rome, Book XXII, Chapter XVI, Section 16).

Another bridge figure was Numenius; although a pagan, he accepted Moses as a bona fide prophet of God, and Philo Judaeus as his interpreter; Plotinus borrowed from his interpretations: "Further, Porphyry records twice that accusations were popularly made against Plotinus, that he had plagiarized from Numenius." (Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, Numenius of Apamea, Numenius, Works and Message, p. 163, Chapter XIV, As Source of Plotinus). There is indeed a process of conformity going on here, but it does not run in the direction some people think it does; the pagans were borrowing from Christianity and from Philo's Judaism.

Although Plotinus himself wrote pamphlets against gnosticisim, Neoplatonism's affinity to the Christian heresy will be evident to students of that heresy, including the notion of the human soul as a particle of Deity; successive waves of emanation irradiating the material world into being versus creation by a Divine act of will, from nothing; the myth of the soul's fall into the prison of the body, etc.

According to Plotinus' biographer Porphyry, Plotinus and Origen stayed in touch after their school days:

"Erennius, Origen, and Plotinus had made an agreement not to disclose any of the doctrines of Ammonius which he had revealed to them in his lectures. Plotinus kept the agreement, and, though he held conferences with people who came to him, maintained silence about the doctrines of Ammonius. Erennius was the first the break the agreement, and Origen followed his lead; but he wrote nothing except the treatise 'On the Spirits' and, in the reign of Gallienus, 'That the King is the Only Maker.' Plotinus for a long time continued to write nothing, but began to base his lectures on his studies with Ammonius...When Origen once came to a meeting of the school he was filled with embarrassment and wanted to stop lecturing, and when Origen urged him to continue he said, 'It damps one's enthusiasm for speaking when one sees that one's audience knows already what one is going to say'; and after talking for a little while he brought the session to an end." (Porphyry, 'The Life of Plotinus').

Although Plotinus' system is not an exact copy of the Christian trinity, the correspondences between the two systems would be remarkable indeed had they arisen independently. But they did not arise independently; Plotinus was a student of an apostate Christian, Ammonius. The concept of God's triunity arose from the revelation of God in Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Plotinus found this concept as exciting as did the Christians who taught it to him.

It is tempting to speculate that whatever Plotinus and Origen, Ammonius' two star pupils, might have in common, would be traceable to their common link. One catches tantalizing glimpses in Plotinus' Enneads (a compilation pieced together by Plotinus' disciple Porphyry) of a God who becomes triune through knowing Himself and loving Himself (I don't mean, of course, 'becoming' in time; Plotinus realized that all God is, He is eternally): "Similarly the knowing principle itself cannot remain simplex, especially in the act of self-knowing: all silent though its self-perception be, it is dual to itself...Knowledge implies desire, for it is, so to speak, discovery crowning a search; the utterly undifferentiated remains self-centered and makes no enquiry about that self: anything capable of analyzing its content, must be a manifold." (Plotinus, Third Tractate, Fifth Ennead).

Even devolved downwards through Plotinus, this refrain strikes a familiar chord: "In God, on the contrary, to be, to know, and to love are identical. Therefore God existing in His natural being and God existing in the divine intellect and God existing in the divine love are one thing. Yet each of them is subsistent. And, as things subsisting in intellectual nature are usually called persons in Latin, or hypostases in Greek, the Latins say that there are three persons in God, and the Greeks say that there are three hypostases, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." (Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, Part One, Chapter 50). Where did Christian apostate Ammonius Saccas hear about this, one wonders? On his mother's knee; i.e., is this the true doctrine of the apostles?

You don't hear much about 'emanations' nowadays, though readers will note the popularity of this term in Plotinus' Neoplatonic system. Or wait a minute...where was I reading about 'emanations' lately?..."We believe in the one ever-living, eternal God: infinite in power, Holy in nature, attributes and purpose; and possessing absolute, indivisible deity. This one true God has revealed Himself as Father, through His Son, in redemption; and as the Holy Spirit, by emanation." (UPCI Articles of Faith).

Jehovah's Witnesses: How many Gods?

The point of convergence between Jehovah's Witness theology and paganism is, of course, the census: how many gods are there? The jam-packed Watchtower pantheon, crammed with 'subordinate gods,' has suspicious affinities with pagan pantheons elsewhere. The pagan Greeks and Romans believed, much like the Jehovah's Witnesses, that there is one supreme god and many lesser ones. Only one of these 'many gods' is uncreated; the others are his works, as described in the quotation already given: "Now, when all of them, both those who visibly appear in their revolutions as well as those other gods who are of a more retiring nature, had come into being, the creator of the universe addressed them in these words: 'Gods, children of gods, who are my works, and of whom I am the artificer and father, my creations are indissoluble, if so I will. All that is bound may be undone, but only an evil being would wish to undo that which is harmonious and happy. Wherefore, since ye are but creatures, ye are not altogether immortal and indissoluble, but ye shall certainly not be dissolved, nor be liable to the fate of death, having in my will a greater and mightier bond than those with which ye were bound at the time of your birth." (Plato, Timaeus, 41).

How Many Gods?

What did the Pagans believe?

Isis, Osiris and Typhon

When you ask the new religious movements for an example of the triune god in which, they assure you, every pagan culture believed, they'll oblige with a 'pagan trinity' like Isis, Osiris and Typhon. Isis and Osiris, brother and sister, were a married couple. Herodotus describes Isis: "The statue of this goddess has the form of a woman but with horns like a cow, resembling thus the Greek representations of Io; and the Egyptians, one and all, venerate cows much more highly than any other animal." (Herodotus, History, Book II). One gathers Osiris was none too picky about appearance. His evil brother Set (whom the Greeks call Typhon) plotted to do away with him. He prepared a coffin, and when Osiris gullibly tried it on for size, he slammed the lid shut! After a series of misadventures, Osiris's body ended up rent into pieces, distributed to various burial sites in Egypt. Embarrassed travelers, counting up the pieces at various temples, noted that he must have had more heads and more legs, etc., than the average person. In any event, the devoted and persistent Isis succeeded in re-assembling him (almost), and he came back to life (soft of), not returning to our upper world, but reigning over the underworld. Egyptians expected, upon their decease, to stand before Osiris as judge. They made elaborate preparations for this, including careful preservation of the body of the decedent, but owing to some unfortunate lack of information about anatomy, they evacuated the brains through the nose and discarded them; thus, all those elaborately preserved mummies are like the Straw Man, lacking brains. Restoring bodily integrity does seem to have been important, in their minds, to a happy after-life. Isis and Osiris left tombs, not empty, in number perhaps excessive to the case, which the traveller could visit in those days: "Now I am not unaware that some historians give the following account of Isis and Osiris: The tombs of these gods lie in Nysa in Arabia, and for this reason Dionysus is also called Nysaeus." (Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 1.27.3).

Encountering the raw story, Christian readers are at a loss to find either a 'trinity' or indeed any meaningful parallels to the gospel narrative. What they fail to realize is that the Osiris myth can be reinvented, rediscovered, rewritten in parallel with the Christ story: "'When it is asserted that Horus (or Osiris) was 'crucified' it should be kept in mind that it was not part of the Horus/Osiris myth that the murdered god was held down and nailed on a cross. . .Rather in one myth Osiris is torn to pieces before being raised from the dead. . .'" (Dorothy M. Murdock, quoted in Come Let Us Reason, Chapter 11, Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie, edited by William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, Kindle location 3526). With a table of equivalents like 'torn to pieces'='crucified,' and 'raised from the dead'='resides in the underworld,' anything can be made to parallel anything.

The reader may be interested to discover what tight correspondences are here to be discovered:

Isis and Osiris

Returning to our devoted if unlucky family, so we have a married couple, and the husband's evil brother. Did any Egyptian ever describe this assortment of three gods as a 'trinity'? Did any Egyptian ever describe this dysfunctional family grouping as One God in three persons? Of course not. Were these three gods the only gods the Egyptians worshipped? Not at all; they worshipped Ra, Nut, Thoth, etc. If you'd like to make a foursome, add baby Horus. Sometimes these three gods are depicted together, sometimes instead a duo of Isis with baby Horus, sometimes a duo of Isis and Osiris, etc. As with any well-populated pantheon, one can isolate triplets if one would like. At a party, guests will divide into little cliques or groups, some of two, some of four or five, and some of three,-- not that there is any abiding law that guests must split up into little groups of three, but three is no more nor less likely than any other number.

So why are these three gods described as a 'trinity'? Because they're three gods. And as everyone knows, a 'trinity' is 'three gods'. . .the only people who don't know this are the Christians! There is tremendous variability in pagan mythology, and you can always find, or invent, a version of the myth more to your liking: "Osiris is interchangeable with Isis, and Horus is of both sexes." (Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Kindle location 25341). These three, or four, gods are bracketed together if you like, or not if you don't. And here is one locale where the people who believe there are 'pagan trinities' may have picked up the idea: from sources such as theosophy, Madame Helena P. Blavatsky's 'Secret Doctrine.' This was the one, unified, constant system of thought which Madame Blavatsky 'discovered' underlying all the religions of the world:

"Such are the basic conceptions on which the Secret Doctrine rests. It would not be in place here to enter upon any defense or proof of their inherent reasonableness; nor can I pause to show how they are, in fact, contained — though too often in a misleading guise — in every system of thought or philosophy worthy of the name." (Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Complete Illustrated Edition, Kindle location 23083).

Stripping away that "misleading guise,"— namely, what the author in question actually says,— is Madame Blavatsky's work, and she bustles about it with a will. It is surprising to see people who are skeptical about other things, swallow this whole. Are there trinities all around? Madame Blavatsky says so:

"The Primordial Substance had not yet passed out of its precosmic latency into differentiated objectivity. . .But, as the hour strikes. . .its heart opens. It differentiates, and the THREE (Father, Mother, Son) are transformed into four. Herein lies the origin of the double mystery of the Trinity and the immaculate Conception." (Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Complete Illustrated Edition, Kindle location 24859).

. . .or is this just drivel?

Pick a number, any number:

"'THE ONE FROM THE EGG, THE SIX AND THE FIVE; THEN THE THREE, THE ONE, THE FOUR, THE ONE, THE FIVE — THE TWICE SEVEN, THE SUM TOTAL. AND THESE ARE: THE ESSENCES, THE FLAMES, THE ELEMENTS, THE BUILDERS, THE NUMBERS. . .'" (Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Complete Illustrated Edition, Kindle location 25874).

Did you pick 'three,' dear Reader? <gasp> What a remarkable coincidence! The lucky number!: "Thus from Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati, the triune (primeval Vedic Trimurti, Agni, Vayu, and Surya), emanate the other seven, or again ten, if we separate the first three which exist in one, and one in three, all, moreover, being comprehended within that one 'supreme' Parama, called Guhya or 'secret'. . ." (Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Kindle location 25914). But why did you not choose 'twice seven'? The numbers from one to ten, Madame Blavatsky sagely intones, are significant:

"Every Cosmogony began with a circle, a point, a triangle, and a cube, up to number 9, when it was synthesized by the first line and a circle. . .The numbers 3 and 4, in their blending of 7, as those of 5, 6, 9, and 10, are the very corner-stone of Occult Cosmogonies." (Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Complete Illustrated Edition, Kindle location 33673, SD p. 321).

Notice that the only numbers she has omitted are 1, 2, and 8, and why she has omitted those is unknown, inasmuch as they are not without significance! If every number between one and ten is significant, then three must be significant, because it is a number between one and ten. At last she settles upon three as the winning number, and develops a 'Mother-Father-Son' trinity. Readers not familiar with Madame Blavatsky, who are unaware of how strangely enamored she is of electricity in its transit through the aether/air, might be disappointed to discover, after the great reveal, what her 'Mother-Husband-Son' trinity turns out to be, once the veil is rent:

"For what are the manifested 'Mother,' the 'Father-Son-Husband' (Aditi and Daksha, a form of Brahma, as Creators) and the 'Son,' — the three 'First-born' — but simply Hydrogen, Oxygen, and that which in its terrestrial manifestation is called nitrogen. Even the exoteric descriptions of the 'First Born' triad give all the characteristics of these three gases." (Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Complete Illustrated Edition, SD v. I, p. 623, Kindle location 46933.)

Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen, how exciting. The 'Secret Doctrine' might just as well remain secret. Osiris, as a 'dying-and-rising' vegetation deity, however, remains popular among the atheists:

"Jesus, of course, is the third Osiris of the Bible. Just as Osiris's devotees celebrated a eucharist of bread and beer, symbolizing his body and blo0d (he is after all the grain god), Jesus declares the wine to be his blood, the bread his body (Mark 14:22-24). (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 288).

Zeus, Hera and Athena

This is another commonly cited 'pagan trinity.' As with most, it's a random assemblage of three gods. This is a 'blended' family; Zeus and Hera are husband and wife, but Athena is not Hera's daughter. The history of this family is dysfunctional in the extreme, featuring cannibalism and incest:

"Later, Kronos forced himself upon Rheia,
And she gave birth to a splendid brood:
Hestia and Demeter and gold-sandalled Hera,
Strong, pitiless Hades, the underworld lord,
The booming Earth-shaker, Poseidon, and finally
Zeus, a wise god, our Father in heaven
Under whose thunder the wide world trembles.

"And Kronos swallowed them all down as soon as each
Issued from Rheia's holy womb onto her knees,
With the intent that only he among the proud Ouranians
Should hold the title of King among the Immortals."

Rheia craftily substituted a stone for infant Zeus, a substitution which Kronos failed to notice:

"She came first to Lykos, travelling quickly by night,
And took the baby in her hands and hid him in a cave,
An eerie hollow in the woods of dark Mount Aigaion.
Then she wrapped up a great stone in swaddling clothes
And gave it to Kronos, Ouranos' son, the great lord and king
Of the earlier gods. He took it in his hands and rammed it
Down into his belly, the poor fool! He had no idea
That a stone had been substituted for his son, who,
Unscathed and content as a babe, would soon wrest
His honors from him by main force and rule the Immortals."

Athena continues the family tradition of abnormal births, springing fully formed from Zeus' forehead, clad in battle armor:

"Now king of the gods, Zeus made Metis his first wife,
Wiser than any other god, or any mortal man.
But when she was about to deliver the owl-eyed goddess
Athena, Zeus tricked her, gulled her with crafty words,
And stuffed her in his stomach, taking the advice
Of Earth and starry Heaven...
From his own head he gave birth to owl-eyed Athena,
The awesome, battle-rousing, army-leading, untiring
Lady, whose pleasure is fighting and the metallic din of war."
(Hesiod, Theogony)

This blended family is a typical 'pagan trinity,' a pick-up team of three gods selected more or less at random, possibly on grounds these three were for some the principal deities of the pantheon. Needless to say, no pagan ever described this assemblage of three gods as One God in three persons. One of many variants is 'Zeus, Athena and Apollo' (Jupiter, Minerva and Apollo). Is Athena, a virgin goddess with no offspring, now become Apollo's mother? Or is it enough just to be friends?

At Random

As the reader will have noted, most 'pagan trinities' are a random assemblage of three gods. The random character of these assemblages is brought out by the freedom with which gods may be substituted. Is the Egyptian 'trinity' Isis, Osiris and Typhon? Or Isis, Osiris and Horus? Whichever you like, provided you gather together a bundle of three. The following table is truncated from the Biblical Apostolic Organization's web-site:

First Person Second Person Third Person
Father, King Son, Prince Mother, Queen
  Triad of Babylon  
Nimrod Tammuz Simerimas
Shamash Sin Ishtar
  Triad of Egypt  
Osiris Horus Isis
  Triad of Greece  
Zeus Apollo Athena
  Triad of India  
Brahma Vishnu Shiva
  Triad of Rome  
Jupiter Mars Venus
  Triad or Trinity of Roman Catholicism  
Father Son Spirit-Mother

How thoughtful that the Babylonians are helpfully supplied with two different 'trinities' from which to choose! And the "Trinity of Roman Catholicism" has been 'improved' to 'Father, Son, and Spirit-Mother,' lest otherwise no resemblance be perceived between the Holy Spirit and the pagan ladies who share the third column. How those Catholics who call Mary 'the spouse of the Holy Spirit' will deal with these developments is unknown.

Notice especially the 'trinities' labelled as 'Greek' and 'Roman.' The Romans, like the modern Japanese, were gifted at incorporating and making their own things invented elsewhere. Since they lacked poetry praising the gods comparable to Homer's epics, they took over the Greek stories. Same stories, same gods: the Roman gods have Latin names rather than Greek, but otherwise match up perfectly with the Greek gods. The Roman pantheon was modeled after the Greek, yet the two 'trinities' supplied by the Biblical Apostolic Organization are comprised of a different set of gods: the Greeks get Zeus (Jupiter), Apollo and Athena (Minerva), while the Romans have Jupiter (Zeus), Mars (Ares) and Venus (Aphrodite). How can one and the same population of gods yield so many different 'pagan trinities,' if the 'trinity' is not in the eye of the beholder?

Although the editors identify the 'third person' of the 'trinity' as "Mother, Queen," the virgin Athena was no more the mother of Apollo than Aphrodite was the mother of her lover Ares, nor was either one Zeus' "Queen," Hera (Juno). If the intent is for the party in the third column to be the mother of the party in the second column, then why not enter Latona or Leto, Apollo's mother, in the third column? How hard could that be? The 'Days of Our Lives' character of the pagans' story-telling about their divinities ensures plenty of connections amongst this cast of characters, if any old connection will do: mother, lover, colleague, friend, business partner. Thus you can manufacture as many of these 'pagan trinities' as you please, by gathering together three gods at random.

As before, the process of generating 'pagan trinities' works like so: a.) Redefine the 'trinity' to mean 'three of something, anything;' b.) Find three of something, somewhere, anywhere, and you have a 'pagan trinity.' Find three more, and you have another 'pagan trinity.' It is as if grocery shopping were discovered to be the underlying cause of trinitarianism, because the shopper's purchases may be sorted and counted as, one carton of milk, one chicken, two peaches, a dozen eggs...and THREE oranges! The error made here is selection bias. Though 'three' is not the shopper's only choice, nor even the preferred choice, nor even a common choice, the occasional 'three' of something, anything, is imagined by the observer to hold special significance. But the significance is to the observer, who is looking for 'three,' not to the shopper, who was looking for groceries.

Jupiter, Mars and Venus

To find a real resemblance, it would help to find some point of similarity in the elements. Let us examine our alternating Graeco-Roman pagan 'trinity.' Jupiter (Zeus) is the only element common to both; the Roman version, as listed above, includes Mars and Venus. Mars (Ares) was the god of war:

"'Ares, Ares, manslaughtering, blood-stained, stormer of strong walls, shall we not leave the Trojans and Achaians to struggle after whatever way Zeus father grants glory to either, while we two give ground together and avoid Zeus' anger?" (Homer, Iliad, Book Five, 30-35).

This G-rated web-site cannot explain Aphrodite's generation in detail, except to pick it up at this point:

"...and in that foam a maiden developed and grew. Her first approach to land was near holy Kythera, and from there she floated on to the island of Kypros. There she came ashore, an awesome, beautiful divinity...Eros became her companion, and ravishing Desire waited on her at her birth and when she made her debut among the Immortals." (Hesiod, Theogony, 195-203).

In the familiar 'pagan trinity' pattern, no resemblance can be discerned between this threesome and the Christian trinity.


'Triform' Diana is the moon: "O virgin, protectress of the mountains and the groves, thou three-formed goddess. . ." (Horace, Book III, Ode XXII). Her three forms, or faces, are the various phases of the moon as she completes her monthly circuit: "Around the pyre stood altars, and the priestess, Hair unbound, called in a voice of thunder Upon three hundred gods, on Erebus, On Chaos, and on triple Hecate, Three-faced Diana. (Virgil, Aeneid, Book IV, Robert Fitzgerald translation, p. 114). She's a favorite of pagan Trinity spotters:

"The Diana of the Romans is stamped on a medal, as having three faces or three distinct heads, united to one form. On the reverse is the image of a man, holding his hand to his lips; under whom is this inscription: ‘Be silent; it is a mystery.’"
(Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Theology, Lecture XVII)

Calendar publishers like to represent the moon's waxing and waning, a continuous process, by four stages, five stages, six stages, but three is the bare minimum. This again is a modalist paradigm, because, as even the pagans realized, it is one and the same moon which appears now full, now crescent, now new.

So why would a Christian theologian resort to triform Diana? Charles Finney, like Hislop, was a trinitarian. Paul said that the pagans knew God:

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." (Romans 1:20-21).

Some readers assume that, for this to be true, the pagans must have a perfectly adequate conception of God. They find what they think they are obliged to find.

Certain truths of Christian theology, like the existence of God, the unicity of God, and the creation of the world, can be demonstrated by reason alone, without resort to God's self-revelation in scripture. Like other disciplines, natural theology seeks to enlarge its sphere; but the doctrine of the Trinity remains a 'bridge too far.' No convincing proof of God's triunity has ever been advanced from reason alone; this is a truth known only because revealed by God.

In order to show that, say, 'Fermat's Last Theorem' is a truth that can be discovered by reason alone, it is not necessary to dredge up some lost tribe which has explicated the theorem. It would help, though. Logic does not make this demand...though rhetoric does. There is considerable 'sales resistance' to the notion that truths about God known only to Christians are discoverable by unaided reason. If that's so, why do none outside know these things? Christians have not cornered the market on reason. It helps to overcome the reader's skepticism if some pagan can be found, like Plato, who does know that an uncreated God created the world. This approach meets a brick wall in the trinity, because there isn't any pagan who knows that God is triune.

The detritus that has piled up from the unsuccessful effort to move the trinity into the sphere of natural theology includes triform Diana and her peers. Those who first advance these likenesses often do so with proper humility, describing them as "intimations." In fact there is no meaningful resemblance between the living God and the shape-shifting moon. Turning the equation around taxes these "intimations" past the breaking point, because no one could possibly arrive at the Christian understanding of a God who ever is, was, and will be Father, Son and Holy Spirit by watching the moon turn from crescent to full and back again.

Bus Herds

Urban dwellers are perplexed by the commonly-noted phenomenon, that there are, on average, more buses going the other way than your way. If you wait patiently for the south-bound bus at a stop on Elm Street, and count all the buses going north versus the buses going your way, over time, the north-bound count will always outnumber the south-bound count. Is life unfair? Not really; there is a very strong constraint limiting the number of buses you will see going your way -- namely, there will always only be one, because you will get on the first bus going your way, not waiting to see any others. On the other hand, there could be zero buses, one bus, or whole herds of buses going the other way. There is a severe constraint on south-bound buses seen: they are always limited to one, versus no constraint on north-bound buses: there can be any number of them.

It's like that with pagan pantheons. The Jehovah's Witnesses and 'Oneness' Pentecostals helpfully supply pagan ornaments depicting 'three gods', thus, they imagine, 'explaining' the Trinity. This 'explanation' flies over time and space, ranging from the isolated Incas to Ossian's Celtic dreams. Never mind for the moment that the Trinity is not 'three gods!' Groupings like Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, or Isis, Osiris and Set are supposed, according to these Trinity-seekers, to represent an inherent 'triadic tendency' in paganism.

But wait -- in 'discovering' triads like Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (a blended family -- Minerva is related to Jupiter but not Juno), our Trinity-discoverers have leaped right over amorous duos like Venus and Mars, and have also overlooked larger groupings, like the twelve Capitoline gods. And wait -- Jupiter has lots of other children besides Minerva; why carve out this little nuclear family from all the other siblings? In fact, the only reason anyone has 'discovered' this 'triad' is because someone went looking for a group of 'three gods', ignoring all other groupings.

Is three significant? Of course! "He [Pythagoras] likewise ordained that men should make libations thrice, and observed that Apollo delivered oracles from the tripod, because the triad is the first number." (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, p. 58). But how splendid is four! People who are into number mysticism find meaning in all of the numbers between one and ten, so they could hardly omit 'three' from their treasure-chest of significant numbers. What about 'six:' "That sacrifices also should be made to Venus on the sixth day, because this number is the first that partakes of every number, and, when divided in every possible way, receives the power of the numbers subtracted and of those that remain." (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, p. 58). And you should hear about 'eight'. . .not to mention 'ten,' the very best of all: "That is why they called Ten a perfect number, the most perfect of all, as comprehending all difference of numbers, reasons, species and proportions." (Porphyry, Biography of Pythagoras, Chapter 52, p. 136, Pythagoras Sourcebook and Library, Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie).

It's easy enough to find groups of three gods — the natural triad of sky, earth and sea evokes in pagan minds a triad of deities. The pagan gods were energetically heterosexual, and mommy and daddy and baby make three. But wait: while pagan divine parenthood could present unusual risks of child mortality, the grand-parent generation, the Titans, not having outgrown the brutish habit of eating the young, in happy times families could grow. The only reason to find nothing but 'triads' is if you're looking for nothing but triads. Just as the party guests sort themselves out into little cliques of two, three, four, or five, no number being 'prohibited', pagan gods could sort themselves out into trios as well as duos and quartets. But they show no tendency to favor that number; it's only the wild-eyed enthusiasts looking for 'triads', and discarding any number other than the one sought, who 'find' any 'triadic tendency' in pagan pantheons.

The new religious movements search the South Seas, homing in on some obscure lost island on which squats a 'three-headed idol.' Yet one can 'dial up' a pagan deity with any number of heads you please: the two-headed Janus, the hundred-headed Typhon, etc. They discard those...because that's not what they're looking for! The only reason to find 'triads' in pagan pantheons is if one is constrained to find 'triads' by the initial conditions of the search.