Apollonius of Tyana is a 1st century philosopher and orator. Apollonius’s biographer, a man named Philostratus, places Apollonius’s life from 3 BCE to 97 CE. Many scholars compare Apollonius to Jesus in that they both were “Messiah figures”.
Much of what is known about Apollonius comes from Philostratus’s biography of him written in the 3rd century, called Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Philostratus used as sources a few scattered writings that may or may not be written by Apollonius himself, and a diary written by Apollonius’s companius Damis. According to Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Apollonius apparently wandered the nations of Asia Minor, preaching and performing miracles. He defied the emperor Domitius, and was then executed. Like Paul was to the New Testament, much of what can be believed about these Apollonius depends on how much modern scholars can trust Philostratus.
Apollonius’ Story, According to Philostratus
If Philostratus can be taken seriously, Apollonius was a well-traveled man. Apollonius of Tyana stayed mainly in Greece and Asia Minor, bu talso traveled to Italy, Spain, North Africa, Mesopatamia, India, and Ethiopia. During his travels, he reportedly taugh philosophy and performed miracles.
The Emperor Nero (of Rome) had reportedly banned all philosophers from the capital city of Rome, and this ban remained after his death. In defiance, Philostratus sometimes went to Rome and spoke there to those who would listen. Later, in his later years, he was apprehended by Roman authorities and at his court trial under Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus (or just Domitius), he was sentenced to death. Apollonius was accused of conspiring against the emperor, performing human sacrifice, and prophecying a plague. Philostratus also suggests that Apollonius ascended to heaven after his death.
The miracles were healings, prophecies, the ability to see events as they happen far away, and his heavenly ascension.
What Apollonius Believed About God
Apollonius’s god was very similar to deism, in that he believed that god couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be persuaded by prayers or sacrifices and has no wish to be worshipped by humans. Where Apollonius breaks rank with conventional deism is his belief that god can be reached through a spiritual procedure involving ‘nous’ (or intellect), because god himself is pure ‘nous’, and ‘nous’ is the greatest of man’s abilities.
In contrast, deism is the belief that a god had to have created the world, but is in no way interested in human affairs.
Allegations of Jesus of Nazareth Being Apollonius
Any attempt to misconstrue Jesus as mimicking Apollonius’s miracles, or the Gospel stories as somehow borrowing from Apollonius’s life, must deal with the fact that most of what is written about him was written well after the Gospels were made. While the earliest Gospel, which is Mark, was written sometime around the year 70 CE; Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana was finished sometime around 220 CE.
The only similarities that can be drawn conclusively about both the New Testament and the writings of Philostratus is that the truth of their content is questionable. In the case of the New Testament, the Gospels were written anonymously (the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were added much later) decades after Jesus; and Paul, the founder of the religion, wasn’t even in Jerusalem when the story of Jesus even took place. Paul was writing of a vision.
In contrast, Philostratus’s sources were a series of letters from Apollonius, of which scholars doubt their authenticity.Another of Philostratus’s sources was a diary from a companion of Apollonius named Damis. But, there are a few scholars who think the diary was an invention of Philostratus, or that it was a real book forged by someone else.This latter diary of Damis is probably the most valuable source of information for Philostratus. So, his writings depend greatly on whether this diary is authentic.