26 October 1742|
29 September 1809 (aged 66)|
Charles François Dupuis (26 October 1742 – 29 September 1809) was a French savant, a professor (from 1766) of rhetoric at the Collège de Lisieux, Paris, who studied for the law in his spare time and was received as avocat in 1770. He also ventured into the field of mathematics and served on the committee that developed the French Republican Calendar.
Along with Constantin François Chassebœuf de Volney (1757–1820) Dupuis was known for developing the Christ myth theory, which argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a mythical character.
Dupuis was born in Trie-Château (in present-day Oise), the son of a schoolmaster. His precocious talents were recognized by the duc de La Rochefoucauld who sent him to the College d'Harcourt. Dupuis made such rapid progress that, at the age of twenty-four, he was appointed professor of rhetoric at the college of Lisieux, where he had previously passed as a Licentiate of Theology. In his hours of leisure he studied law, and in 1770 he abandoned the clerical career and became an advocate. Two university discourses which he delivered in Latin were printed, and laid the foundation of his literary fame.
In 1778, he invented a telegraph with which he was able to correspond with his friend Fortin de Bagneux, and must be considered among the first inventors of the telegraph that was perfected by Claude Chappe. The Revolution made it necessary to destroy his machine in order to avoid suspicion.
Dupuis devoted himself to the study of astronomy (his tutor was Lalande) in connection with mythology, the result of which was his magnum opus: Origine de tous les Cultes, ou la Réligion Universelle. It appeared in 1795 in quarto or octavo format, profusely illustrated (in 12 volumes); an abridgement (1798) spread his system more widely among the reading public. In Origine he advocated the unity of the astronomical and religious myths of all nations, an aspect of the Enlightenment's confidence in the universality of human nature. In his Mémoire explicatif du Zodiaque, chronologique et mythologique (1806) he similarly maintains a common origin for the astronomical and religious opinions of the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Persians, and Arabians. His basis was what he saw as the perfect correspondence between the signs of the zodiac and their significations had existed in Upper Egypt at a period of between fifteen and sixteen thousand years before the present time, and that it had existed only there. Subsequently, this harmony had been disturbed by the effect of the precession of the equinoxes. He therefore ascribed the invention of the signs of the zodiac to the people who then inhabited Upper Egypt or Ethiopia. His theory as to the origin of mythology in Upper Egypt led to the expedition organized by Napoleon for the exploration of that country.
He then contributed to the Journal des savants a memoire on the origin of the constellations and on the explication of myth through astronomy, which was published as a separate fascicle in 1781. He came to the attention of Frederick the Great, who appointed him secretary but died before Dupuis could take up duties in Berlin. The chair of humanity in the Collège de France having at the same time become vacant, it was conferred on Dupuis, where he taught Latin eloquence, and in 1788 he became a member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. He now resigned his professorship at Lisieux, and was appointed by the administrators of the department of Paris one of the four commissioners of public instruction.
After the start of the French Revolution, Dupuis fled Paris for Évreux, appalled by the massacres of September 1792, only to return when he discovered he had been elected to the National Convention, where he sat on the Council of Five Hundred, and was President of the Legislative Body after the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire. He left political life in 1802. In April 1806 he received the Legion of Honor.
Christ myth theory
The beginnings of the formal denial of the existence of Jesus can be traced to late 18th century France, and the works of Constantin François Chassebœuf de Volney (1757–1820) and Dupuis. Volney and Dupuis argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a mythical character.
Dupuis argued that ancient rituals in Syria, Egypt and Persia had influenced the Christian story which was allegorized as the histories of solar deities, such as Sol Invictus. He argued also that Jewish and Christian scriptures could be interpreted according to the solar pattern, e.g. the Fall of Man in Genesis being an allegory of the hardship caused by winter, and the resurrection of Jesus an allegory for the growth of the sun's strength in the sign of Aries at the spring equinox.
Volney argued that Abraham and Sarah were derived from Brahma and his wife Saraswati, and that Christ was related to Krishna. Volney published before Dupuis but made use of a draft version of Dupuis' work, and followed much of his argument, but at times differed from him, e.g. in arguing that the gospel stories were not intentionally created as an extended allegory grounded in solar myths, but were compiled organically when simple allegorical statements were misunderstood as history.
French Catholic librarian Jean-Baptiste Pérès wrote a satirical refutation of Dupuis's work under the title of Grand Erratum (1827), in which he maintains, in parallel to Dupuis's thesis that the cult of Christ is merely a cult of the Sun, that Napoleon (who, in reality, died a mere six years before the publication of the pamphlet) never existed, but was only a sun myth.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dupuis, Charles François". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 690.
- Bradlaugh, Charles. (1895). Theological Essays. London. p. 59
- Weaver, Walter P. (1999). The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century, 1900–1950. Trinity. pp. 45-50.
- Schweitzer, Albert. (2001)  The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Fortress. p. 355ff.
- Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 7-11. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9.
- Wells, G. A. (1969). Stages of New Testament Criticism. Journal of the History of Ideas, 30 (2): 147-160.
- Leask, Nigel (2004). British Romantic Writers and the East. Cambridge Univ Press. pp. 104 -105. ISBN 0521604443.
- Brief notes
- Origine, chapter ix: "An explanation of the fable, in which the Sun is worshiped under the name of Christ"
- Origine, chapter xii: "“An abridged explanation of an apocalyptic work of the initiates into the mysteries of the light and of the sun, worshipped under the symbol of the vernal lamb or of the celestial ram."
- Full text of Origin of all Religious Worship (Origine de tous les Cultes)