As Dan Brown in his book The Da Vinci Code writes, “Nothing in Christianity is original.”
Much is meant by Brown’s words. It is in recent times that a number of people are claiming that Jesus is simply a rehash of older pagan secretive religions, and of the religions of dying and rising gods. We see this masqueraded as truth in films such as Zeitgeist, The Da Vinci Code and Irreligious which, to the layperson, seem to be factual and convincing. But how factually based are these claims? Surely anyone can misconstrue evidence to suit their biases?
The first step for anyone really seeking to understand these allegations would be to consult the views and opinions of scholars in the relevant and necessary fields of expertise. Sure, scholars differ on many details, but what do they have to say on this specific issue? Is such an issue even on the table of debate nowadays? If so, or if not, then why?
In a nutshell this essay will focus on analyzing these comparisons, the educated opinions of the scholars, and try to show that such pagan parallels are not seen in the historical Jesus of the New Testament.
Who are the mythicists?
Professor Bart Ehrman, arguably the world’s leading skeptical New Testament scholar, asks, “What is driving the mythicist’s agenda? Why do they work so hard at showing that Jesus never really lived? I do not have a definitive answer to that question, but I do have a hunch. It is no accident that virtually all mythicists (in fact, all of them, to my knowledge), are either atheists or agnostics. The ones I know anything about are quite virulently, even militantly atheist.”
Ehrman is correct in his hunch. One of the leading mythicists of today is Richard Carrier, and Carrier happens to be a committed atheist who writes for the Secular Web. Now, one has to really dig deep to find any mythicists with good credentials. Carrier with two or three other proponents are the only few propounding this view with anything to their name (Robert Price being another). What’s more, however, is that none of them, including the credential ones, are actually respected scholars or even scholars in the first place. For example, we find the likes of Bill Maher (Irreligious), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), James Coyman (Zeitgeist), and Brian Flemming (The God Who Wasn’t There) proposing this view. The problem is that one is a comedian, another an author, and so on. The point being is that mythicism just has no currency in contemporary scholarship.
Nonetheless, mythicists will argue that Jesus was nothing more than a copy of popular dying and rising fertility gods in various places from around the world. Some of these gods would include Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Adonis in Syria, Attis in Asia Minor, and Horus in Egypt. It has only been in recent times that the mythicist allegations have been revitalized due to the rise of the internet and the mass distribution of information from unaccountable, unreliable sources.
1. Professional scholars unanimously reject the claim that Jesus is a pagan copy.
Today just about every scholar in the relevant historical specializations unanimously rejects the notion that Jesus is a copy of pagan gods. It seems that the available evidence has persuaded them against these alleged parallels. For instance, T.N.D Mettinger of Lund University comments that “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct…”
Professor Ronald Nash, a prominent philosopher and theologian agrees that the “Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth—at least during its early stages.” Nash then goes on to say, “Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue.”
Leading New Testament scholar Professor Craig Keener explains that “When you make the comparisons,” between the historical Jesus and the claims made by mythicists, “you end up with a whole lot more differences than you do similarities.”
Michael Bird, who is on the editorial board for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, as well is a Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, is visibly annoyed by the same recurrent trope saying that “Now I am normally a cordial and collegial chap, but to be honest, I have little time or patience to invest in debunking the wild fantasies of “Jesus mythicists”, as they are known. That is because, to be frank, those of us who work in the academic profession of religion and history simply have a hard time taking them seriously.”
Professor James Dunn in his article on “Myth” writes, “Myth is a term of at least doubtful relevance to the study of Jesus and the Gospels.” Myth in this sense is taken to mean unhistorical.
2. Experts in the field unanimously agree that Jesus lived and that we can know things about him. This is very unlike the many pagan gods.
The most credible New Testament, Biblical, historical, and early Christianity scholars today, from all backgrounds of belief, agree wholeheartedly that Jesus existed. Of course the debate arises in what we can know about Jesus. Those are good points of discussion though they are detached from this discussion. This very much separates Jesus from many of the dying and rising gods that often have no place in history as historical figures. As the once skeptical and influential professor Bultmann penned, “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.”
Paul Maier, a former Professor of Ancient History, likewise agrees. Maier emphasizes the depth of the historical evidence at the historian’s disposal that makes “The total evidence so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”
Professor Craig Evans, a widely known and respected academic commentator on his writings on the historical Jesus, says that “No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.”
Even Bart Ehrman, no friend of Christianity, compares mythicism to young earth creationism, which he takes both to be absurd, “These views are so extreme [that Jesus did not exist] and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.”
Historian Michael Grant says, “To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.’
So, if anything, the claim that Jesus never existed as a historical figure is viewed as an absurd position held by those on the outer fringe. According to Richard Burridge there is an obvious absence of mythicism in professional scholarship, “I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that (that Jesus did not exist) anymore.”
3. We actually know very little about these pagan secretive religions.
As a matter of history it seems that these pagan religions were really only known by those in the relevant communities, and most of whom had no intention of sharing it with outsiders. Of course this would leave modern historians in a tricky situation, as we can know only little snippets of who these groups really were, and what their practices were like. As Ehrman writes, “We know very little about mystery religions – the whole point of mystery religions is that they’re secret! So I think it’s crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this.”
C.S Lewis, a former atheist to Christian convert looked into the question himself, and discovered that “The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when.”
J.Z. Smith, a historian of religion and Hellenistic religious scholar writes that “The idea of dying and rising gods is largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.” They are particularly imaginary because proponents of mythicism need to use imagination to reconstruct largely unknown history.
If we have late and ambiguous texts, a lack of these texts, and many of these texts postdating Christianity (more on this in the following point), then it would be warranted to want to know where mythicists are getting their alleged parallels from? As J.Z. Smith notes above, it comes from highly speculative “imaginative reconstructions” solely in the minds of the mythicists who, as Ehrman noted, are driven by an anti-religious, and anti-Christian agenda.
4. Most of what we know of secretive pagan religions comes after Christianity, not before it.
If it is true that most of what we know of these secretive religions postdates Christianity, then why are mythicists proposing the view that these texts predate Christianity? Why do they claim that the early Christian community copied elements of these secretive religions when they could not have?
Professor Mettinger, alongside academic consensus, hold that there were no dying and rising gods before Jesus, or before the advent of Christianity in the early 1st century: “The consensus among modern scholars — nearly universal — is that there were no dying and rising gods that preceded Christianity. They all post-dated the first century.” Mettinger goes on to say that the particular references to a resurrection of Adonis “have been dated mainly to the Christian Era,” hence could not precede the resurrection of Jesus.
Scholar Edwin Yamauchi writes that “the supposed resurrection of Attis doesn’t appear until after AD 150.” And in the case of Mithra, professor Ronald Nash himself explains that “Mithraism flowered after Christianity, not before, so Christianity could not have copied from Mithraism. The timing is all wrong to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity.”
Thus, the alleged copying on the part of the earliest Christians simply could not have occurred.
5. The Jewish were a people who refrained from allowing pagan myths to invade their culture.
Many times in the Old Testament the Jews would reject their one true God, and engage in idolatry. We know of this because it is reported in our biblical texts. However, no evidence suggests that this happened in 1st century Palestine during the time Jesus lived and was crucified. In fact, the New Testament overwhelmingly confirms that the Pharisees were very strict in application of the law. For example, Paul, as a former Pharisee prior to his conversion to Christianity, went to the extent of authorizing the killings of early Christians for their blasphemous claim of a risen Jesus. Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig writes that “For Jesus and his disciples they were first century Palestinian Jews, and it is against that background that they must be understood.”
Professor Ben Witherington notes that the claims surrounding the risen Jesus “was not a regular part of the pagan lexicon of the afterlife at all, as even a cursory study of the relevant passages in the Greek and Latin classics shows. Indeed, as Acts 17 suggests, pagans were more likely than not to ridicule such an idea. I can understand the apologetic theory if, and only if, the Gospels were directed largely to Pharisaic Jews or their sympathizers. I know of no scholar, however, who has argued such a case.”
Craig goes on to argue that “The spuriousness of the alleged parallels is just one indication that pagan mythology is the wrong interpretive framework for understanding the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection,” and that “…anyone pressing this objection has a burden of proof to bear. He needs to show that the narratives are parallel and, moreover, that they are causally connected… It boggles the imagination to think that the original disciples would have suddenly and sincerely come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead just because they had heard of pagan myths about dying and rising seasonal gods.”
Professor E.P. Sanders contends that Jesus is best made sense of within the world of the 1st century Judaism, “the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.” Hence why Martin Hengel wrote that “Hellenistic mystery religions… could gain virtually no influence [in Jewish Palestine].”
6. The New Testament canon is history unlike much of the pagan secretive mysteries.
The gospels and the other literature of the New Testament are our most reliable sources of information we have on the historical Jesus and the early Christian movement. The gospels, for example, are classified as Greco-Roman biography. Graham Stanton of Cambridge University writes that it is no longer “possible to deny that the Gospels are a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of ‘lives,’ that is, biographies.”
Distinguished New Testament scholar Charles Talbert in his book ‘What are the Gospels’ speaks highly of another influential book that influenced scholars of the true genre of the gospels; he claims that “This volume ought to end any legitimate denials of the canonical Gospels’ biographical character.” Likewise David Aune, a prominent specialist in ancient literature, suggests that “while the [Gospel writers] clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicated that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened.”
Understanding the genre of the gospels is important. If the authors intended to write romantic fiction that would be different than if they chose to write historical biography. What further corroborates the fact that the gospels texts are biographical literature is archaeology. As Urban von Wahlde, a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, concluded, archaeology “demonstrates the full extent of the accuracy and the detail of the Evangelist’s knowledge…. The topographical references …. are entirely historical …. some [parts of the gospel] are quite accurate, detailed and historical.”
Drawing from this, Professor Ehrman attempts to emphasize the historical nature of the gospels saying that “If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons—for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons, pure and simple.”
What this shows is that the gospels are routed in history and that they are inspired by an actual person of history: Jesus of Nazareth.
7. Unlike the pagan secretive religions, Jesus is an ancient figure we can actually know about, what he thought of himself, and what he did as a historical figure of history:
Whether one holds that Jesus was really the Son of Man, thus God himself, or just a religious genius/quack of the 1st century, we can glean facts about his life and ministry. Professor Craig Evans informs us of scholarly consensus saying that “the consensus is, look, Jesus existed, he was Jewish, he wasn’t out to break the law. He was out to fulfil it. Jesus understood himself as the Lord’s anointed, that is as the Messiah.”
Professor Sanders states that: “Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain. Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.” Sanders goes on to say explain that miracle healings and exorcisms are part of what we can know about Jesus, “I think we can be fairly certain that initially Jesus’ fame came as a result of healing, especially exorcism.”
Stanton, a former prominent and widely respected New Testament scholar, explained that “Few doubt that Jesus possessed unusual gifts as a healer, though of course varied explanations are offered.” Tomson, a lecturer in New Testament Studies claims that “Although he apparently considered himself the heavenly ‘Son of Man’ and ‘the beloved son’ of God and cherished far-reaching Messianic ambitions, Jesus was equally reticent about these convictions. Even so, the fact that, after his death and resurrection, his disciples proclaimed him as the Messiah can be understood as a direct development from his own teachings.”
Professor Robert Grant suggests that “Jesus introduced a very singular innovation. For he also claimed that he himself could forgive sins… Jesus lived his last days, and died, in the belief that his death was destined to save the human race.” Similarly, late scholar Maurice Casey said that Jesus “believed that his death would fulfill the will of God for the redemption of his people Israel.”
According to Professor Sanders, we can know that Jesus’ post-mortem appearances really convinced his earliest followers of his resurrection: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”
What this shows is that leading experts in the field have no doubts that we can actually know quite a lot about the Jesus of history. In other words the majority consensus of historians is that Jesus actually existed, that we can actually know what he set out to accomplish, and what he seemed to have thought of himself. This is unlike the sketchy traditions we find in the secretive religions.
8. The Jesus of history does not fit the profile of someone that would be a myth.
In many aspects of Jesus’ life he was unique. This was evidently so compelling to those in his day that a number of groups, crowds, and individuals followed him. Many would even follow him even if it led to their deaths and a host of painful suffering. Today scholars continue to be surprised by Jesus, as historian Edwin Judge observes,
“An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth and legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it.”
C.S Lewis, best known for his essays on Christianity and for the fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, lends us his expertise as a literary critic saying, “All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic. I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff.”
However, at the very center of our gospels we have the activities, life, ministry, and the person of Jesus. Much of what is recorded in the gospels is concretely based in the historical record.
9. Much of these secretive pagan religions have little to do with concrete history.
Professor Edwin Yamauchi explains that “All of these myths are repetitive, symbolic representations of the death and rebirth of vegetation. These are not historical figures …”
Similarly, Professor and biblical exegete William Lane Craig writes that: “In fact, most scholars have come to doubt whether, properly speaking, there really were any myths of dying and rising gods at all!”
It would thus prove difficult to draw parallels to Jesus from these pagan myths that had little to do with history in the first place.
10. Evidence of dishonest pseudo-scholar work – Dorothy Murdock:
Though deceased, another widely known mythicist would be that of Dorothy Murdock. Her work, however, has been rightly criticized. For example, there is one lengthy back and forth debate between her and prominent historian Mike Licona. Licona really does a solid job of critiquing Murdock’s work. I have included some of the quotes below that come from Licona’s entry in their interaction. Other quotes come from some of the scholars he consulted in certain relevant fields of expertise that he felt had a more thorough knowledge of the fields.
Critic Bart Ehrman upon review of Murdock’s book, The Christ Conspiracy, went as far to even say that her book “is filled with so many factual errors and outlandish assertions that it is hard to believe the author is serious.” He goes on to write that “all of Acharya’s major points are in fact wrong”, and that “Mythicists of this ilk should not be surprised that their views are not taken seriously by real scholars, mentioned by experts in the field, or even read by them.”
It is a bad one no doubt when even other mythicists, in this case the atheist historian Robert Price, calls Murdock’s book “sophomoric,” and is little more than “a random bag of (mainly recycled) eccentricities, some few of them worth considering, most dangerously shaky, many outright looney.” Most scholars say the same about Price’s work, however.
In her book, Murdock claims that Jesus was a copy of one the Hindu god, Krishna. However, regarding this point that Krishna was crucified before Jesus, Edwin Bryant, Professor of Hinduism and translator of the Bhagavata-Purana (life of Krishna) responds in no subtle way, “That is absolute and complete non-sense. There is absolutely no mention anywhere which alludes to a crucifixion.” Bryant then writes that “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about! Vithoba was a form of Krishna worshipped in the state of Maharashtra. There are absolutely no Indian gods portrayed as crucified.”
And regarding the alleged parallels that Murdock tries to draw between Hinduism and Christianity, Benjamin Walker in his book ‘The Hindu World: An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism’ says that: “[t]here can be no doubt that the Hindus borrowed the tales [from Christianity], but not the name.” In other words, Christianity could not have done the borrowing.
Murdock further claims that Christianity has failed in India because “the Brahmans have recognized Christianity as a relatively recent imitation of their much older traditions.” To this, Bryant simply commented, “Stupid comment.” Licona goes on to say that “Murdock’s claim that Christianity has borrowed substantially from Hinduism is without merit. Her claims are false, unsupported, and exhibit a lack of understanding of the Hindu faith.”
In addition to Krishna, Murdock cites similarities between the Buddha and Jesus as an example of how Christianity has borrowed from Buddhism. Professor Chun-fang Yu, a specialist in Buddhist studies, comments: “[The woman you speak of] is totally ignorant of Buddhism. It is very dangerous to spread misinformation like this. You should not honor [Ms. Murdock] by engaging in a discussion. Please ask [her] to take a basic course in world religion or Buddhism before uttering another word about things she does not know.”
Subsequently, like it is common within mythicist circles, Murdock tries to downplay one of the two references to Jesus within the work of 1st century historian Josephus Flavius (the passage on John the Baptist & Jesus’ brother James). She writes: “Although much has been made of these ‘references,’ they have been dismissed by scholars and Christian apologists alike as forgeries, as have been those referring to John the Baptist and James, ‘brother of Jesus.’” These are obviously false statements on her part. In return Mike Licona comments that,
“Murdock’s claim is grossly naïve as well as false. Josephus’ passage on John the Baptist is regarded as authentic and is hardly disputed by scholars.” Professor Yamauchi would agree saying that “No scholar has questioned the authenticity of this passage, though there are some differences between Josephus’s account and that in the Gospels . . .” New Testament scholar, Robert Van Voorst of Western Theological Seminary likewise comments that the passage by Josephus on John the Baptist is “held to be undoubtedly genuine by most interpreters” and that “scholars also hold [it] to be independent of the New Testament.”
Professor John Meier similarly argues that Josephus’ mentioning of John the Baptist & James is “accepted as authentic by almost all scholars” and that it “is simply inconceivable as the work of a Christian of any period.” Jewish scholar, Louis Feldman of Yeshiva University and perhaps the most prominent expert on Josephus comments on this passage claims that: “There can be little doubt as to the genuineness of Josephus’ passage about John the Baptist.”
Thus, Murdock’s comment that this passage has “been dismissed by scholars and Christian apologists alike as forgeries” is demonstrably false.”
In her work, Murdock claims that myth enveloped early Christianity due to “the signs or constellations of the zodiac.” In response to this Noel Swerdlow, a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago argues that:
“…she is saying something that no one would have thought of in antiquity because in which constellation of the fixed stars the vernal equinox was located, was of no significance and is entirely an idea of modern, I believe twentieth-century, astrology.”
Licona thus lays down a challenge, “I challenge Ms. Murdock to name someone other than Jesus who lived in the first century (e.g., Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, etc.), who is mentioned by 17 writers who do not share his convictions, and who write within 150 years of his life. No first century person was as well attested as Jesus.”
Salt is rubbed into the wound when Licona actually researched the sources that Murdock cited behind her work. Licona discovered that “Practically all of her sources are secondary rather than primary sources. For example, she quotes Adolf Hitler as saying that it was his Christian convictions which led him to attempt to exterminate the Jews. Where did Hitler say this? We cannot know from reading her book, because her source is The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets! On still another point, she quotes Otto Schmiedel. However, when you look at the endnote, you find that her source is Rudolf Steiner, a mystic.”
Murdock’s work, says Licona, “is like someone arguing that terrorism is justified and cites ten terrorists claiming that terrorism is just. However, this does nothing to support their position that terrorism is justified; only that some believe that it is. It also indicates that she has not checked out the claims of her sources, but rather uncritically accepts what they say… in terms of this book being a responsible account of the origin of Christianity, it is unsalvageable.”
11. None of the mythicists are actual scholars in the relevant fields of expertise.
What we find is that no scholar in any of the relevant fields (independent of their personal worldview beliefs) holds to these radical views. Professor of New Testament Studies, Ben Witherington, explains that “Not a single one of these authors and sources are experts in the Bible, Biblical history, the Ancient Near East, Egyptology, or any of the cognate fields…. they are not reliable sources of information about the origins of Christianity, Judaism, or much of anything else of relevance to this discussion.”
John Dickson, a historian of early Christianity and Judaism, says that “anyone who dips into the thousands of secular monographs and journal articles on the historical Jesus will quickly discover that mythicists are regarded by 99.9% of the scholarly community as complete “outliers,” the fringe of the fringe.”
Scholar Michael Bird categorizes mythicists to be no more thab fringe atheists of whom no-one takes seriously, “There is a reason why this view is the sole possession of an energetic bunch of fringe atheists and has never been entertained as a possibility by experienced and respected scholars working in the field of Christian Origins.”
Majority, if not nearly all, of the mythicists are atheists, and especially of the atheist crowd that is vocally anti-religion/Christianity. This makes sense as what better way is there to discredit a religion than to attack the very existence of the person behind it directly? As Professor Mettinger writes, that “From the 1930s… a consensus has developed to the effect that the ‘dying and rising gods’ died but did not return or rise to live again. Those who still think differently are looked upon as residual members of an almost extinct species.”
12. Jesus’ virgin birth is unique.
One of the events Christians celebrate on December 25th is that of Jesus’ birth. Of course no-where in the biblical sources does it allude to this specific date of Jesus’ birth. We simply do not know when Jesus was born. This is an interesting fact in the context of this discussion because the 25th of December has become the home to numerous alleged parallels.
Firstly, in the context of the uniqueness of Mary’s virginal conception the prominent biblical scholar Raymond Brown concludes that “No search for parallels has given us a truly satisfactory explanation of how early Christians happened upon the idea of a virginal conception…”
Second, some have argued that the pagan god Mithra was born of a virgin in the exact same manner as Jesus. However, Professor Manfred Clauss, a scholar of ancient history, explains that “The sequence of images from the mythical account of Mithras’ life and exploits begins, so far as we can make out, with the god’s birth. The literary sources here are few but unmistakable: Mithras was known as the rock-born god.”
Unless rocks count as virgins we do not not have a parallel here. But apparently that’s good enough for mythicists. Historian Louis Sweet is hugely helpful here,
“After a careful, laborious, and occasionally wearisome study of the evidence offered and the analogies urged, I am convinced that heathenism knows nothing of virgin births. Supernatural births it has without number, but never from a virgin in the New Testament sense and never without physical generation, except in a few isolated instances of magical births on the part of women who had not the slightest claim to be called virgins. In all recorded instances which I have been able to examine, if the mother was a virgin before conception took place she could not make that claim afterward.”
Thomas Boslooper agrees, “The literature of the world is prolific with narratives of unusual births, but it contains no precise analogy to the virgin birth in Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ ‘virgin birth’ is not ‘pagan’.” Again, William Craig informs his readers that “The Gospel stories of Jesus’ virginal conception are, in fact, without parallel in the ancient Near East.”
If anything Jesus’ radical virginal birth is rather unique.
13. Jesus’ death had a radical impact on his disciples; a feat that no pagan god can boast.
In an article for the New York Times Peter Steinfels, an American journalist and educator best known for his writings on religious topics, questions what could have drastically changed the lives of so many after Jesus’ death: “Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened … But exactly what?”
Even the skeptical New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, notes that “We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.”
E.P Sanders writes: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact,” though he cannot say “What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences…”
Rudolph Bultmann, known to be a skeptic as well as one of the most influential scholars of the New Testament writes: “All that historical criticism can establish is that the first disciples came to believe the resurrection.”
Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, pens that “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.”
What makes this case persuasive is that these very same followers, and the skeptics Paul and James, underwent persecution for this proclamation. Several even went to their deaths as a result. How could a mythological historical Jesus so drastically change the lives of so many men?
14. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is unique.
As an event of history, especially within the context of the 1st century Judaism, the resurrection of Jesus was a unique once off event. Given this the alleged parallels that the mythicists seem to draw between Jesus and the pagan gods are spurious. Ehrman believes that “there’s nothing about them [Hercules and Osiris] dying and rising again.” and “It is true that Osiris “comes back” to earth …. But this is not a resurrection of his body. His body is still dead. He himself is down in Hades, and can come back up to make an appearance on earth on occasion.”
Professor Mettinger concludes similarly that “there were no ideas of resurrection connected with Dumuzi/Tammuz” and “The category of dying and rising deities as propagated by Frazer can no longer be upheld.”
According to Edwin Yamauchi “there’s no resurrection of Marduk or Dionysus …… there was no real resurrection of Tammuz.”
In agreement with these voices Jonathan Smith writes that “There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.”
Professor Mettinger again says that “While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions.”
Professor Ronald Nash lends us his view on the alleged Mithras Jesus parallel: “Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth—at least during its early stages.”
Theologian Norman Geisler demonstrates the overt differences between Jesus and other pagan gods, as in the case of Osiris: “The only known account of a god surviving death that predates Christianity is the Egyptian cult god Osiris. In this myth, Osiris is cut into fourteen pieces, scattered around Egypt, then reassembled and brought back to life by the goddess Isis. However, Osiris does not actually come back to physical life but becomes a member of a shadowy underworld…This is far different than Jesus’ resurrection account.”
15. The notion that Jesus is a copy parallel of Mithras is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Mithras, they claim in the following comparisons that Mithras was:
1. Mithras sacrificed himself.
2. He was resurrected.
3. He had disciples.
4. Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th.
5. He was called the Messiah.
6. He was born from a virgin.
Firstly, this is questionable since very little is known about Mithraism because no texts have been found or none exist. What we know comes from archaeology in the form of hundreds of discovered mithraea artefacts, as well as in the writings of Christians and other pagans in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Secondly, scholars have found no clear evidence of Mithraism until the mid to late 1st century, after Christianity was established. Therefore the early Christians could not copy anything, as there was nothing to copy in the first place.
Thirdly, the comparisons are spurious on all levels. As for starters Mithras did not sacrifice himself at all, and no-one actually knows if or how he died. Scholars seem to think that Mithras was killed by a bull. This killing of by the bull seems to be the source of the Mithraic ritual, known as taurobolium, of killing a bull and allowing the blood to drench the worshiper. Now, there may be parallels between this ritual and Jewish animal sacrifice, or the Christian Eucharist, but the earliest reference to the ritual is the middle of the 2nd century – these comparisons, even if accurate, are spurious, and post-date Christianity. As Ronald Nash observes, “Indeed, there is inscriptional evidence from the fourth century A.D. that, far from influencing Christianity, those who used the taurobolium were influenced by Christianity”
As we have no record of Mithras actually dying, there is no record of him being resurrected either, especially not in the way of the claims surrounding Jesus. And the claim that Mithras had disciples is incorrect, there is no evidence that he existed as a historical figure, and there is no evidence that he had any disciples. He was seen as a god, and not as a human.
Fourthly, Mithras was not born of a virgin, unless we count rocks as virgins. As Clauss, a professor of ancient history at the Free University of Berlin, in his book ‘The Roman Cult of Mithras‘ explains: “The sequence of images from the mythical account of Mithras’ life and exploits begins, so far as we can make out, with the god’s birth. The literary sources here are few but unmistakable: Mithras was known as the rock-born god.”
Fifthly, I would encourage anyone to forward primary evidence that Mithras was referred to as the “Messiah”, because there is no evidence of this. As Professor Gary Lease has noted, “After almost 100 years of unremitting labor, the conclusion appears inescapable that neither Mithraism nor Christianity proved to be an obvious and direct influence upon the other”
Professor Edwin Yamauchi concludes, “We don’t know anything about the death of Mithras… We have a lot of monuments, but we have almost no textual evidence, because this was a secret religion. But I know of no references to a supposed death and resurrection.”
16. That Jesus is a copy of Horus is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Horus, they claim in the following comparisons that Horus was:
1. Born on December 25
2. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is a copy of the Horus account.
3. Born of a virgin.
4. Three kings came to adore the new-born “saviour”.
5. Was a saviour.
6. He became a child teacher at the age of 12.
7. Like Jesus, Horus was “baptized”.
8. He had a “ministry”.
9. Had twelve “disciples”
10. Was crucified, was buried for three days, and was resurrected after three days.
Horus was born during month of Khoiak, this would be either October or November, and certainly not December 25 as the mythicist claims. We should also note that we don’t actually know when Jesus was born, and it most likely was not on the 25th of December. This alleged parallel should be rejected.
Secondly, Horus was born to Isis, and there is no mention in history of her being called “Mary” at any time or place, or by anyone. Even worse for those using this as an alleged parallel is that “Mary” is an Anglicized form of her real name which is actually Miryam or Miriam, therefore, “Mary” was not even used in the original biblical manuscripts! Someone is clearly making up nonsense.
Thirdly, Isis was not a virgin. Isis was actually the widow of Osiris and conceived Horus with Osiris. In fact, we read: that “[Isis] made to rise up the helpless members [penis] of him whose heart was at rest, she drew from him his essence [sperm], and she made therefrom an heir [Horus].”(Encyclopaedia Mythica)
Fourthly, there is no record of three kings visiting Horus at his birth. This becomes even more questionable when we find that our gospel accounts don’t even state the actual number of magi that came to see Jesus at his birth. Fifthly, Horus was not even a saviour by any means; he did not even die for anyone like Jesus did.
Sixth, I would challenge anyone to produce a single piece of primary evidence that tells us of Horus being a teacher at the age of 12. There is none that scholars have ever found.
Seventh, Horus was also not “baptized”, at least not like Jesus was at the hands of John the Baptist in the Jordan river. The only account of Horus that involves water is one story where Horus is torn to pieces, with Isis requesting the crocodile god to fish him out of the water. Doesn’t sound much like a baptism.
We have no account of Horus ever having a “ministry”, especially not one like Jesus’.
Horus also did not have 12 disciples. According to data, Horus had four demigods that followed him, and there are some indications of 16 human followers and an unknown number of blacksmiths that went into battle with him.
Subsequently, there are different accounts of how Horus actually died, but none of them ever involves a crucifixion.
Lastly, we have no accounts of Horus even being buried for three days. We have no accounts of Horus being resurrected, and especially not in the bodily form as Jesus was. There is no account of Horus coming out of the grave with the body he went in with. Some accounts have Horus/Osiris being brought back to life by Isis and then becoming the lord of the underworld.
All these alleged parallels are spurious at best.
17. That Jesus was a copy of Dionysus is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Dionysus, they claim in the following comparisons that Dionysus was:
1. Born of a virgin.
2. Born on the 25th of December.
3. Turned water into wine.
Again, point 2 can be dismissed because we don’t know when Jesus was born.
Secondly, there are two common stories of Dionysus’ birth. One story involves the god Zeus, who is his father, either impregnating the mortal woman Semele, or impregnating Persephone (the Greek Queen of the underworld). This has nothing to do with a virgin birth. In the other narrative there is also no virgin birth. However, the second narrative seems to be a copy of the Genesis biblical because it appears to describe what the book of Genesis said thousands of years before. In this narrative of Dionysus’ birth it describes fallen angels, and then impregnating human women. Either way, there’s nothing here to be a parallel of Jesus.
We are all likely familiar with the miracle story of Jesus turning water into wine. But was it a copy from the pagan god Dionysus, as some have alleged? No. Firstly, Dionysus gave King Midas the power to turn whatever he touched into gold. Also, he gave the daughters of King Anius the power to turn whatever they touched into wine, corn, or oil. But this should hardly be surprising as Dionysus was the god of wine. However, there do seem to be stories where Dionysus supernaturally fills empty vessels with wine, but the actual act of turning water into wine does not occur. There’s no parallel here either.
18. That Jesus is a copy of Krishna is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Krishna, they claim in the following comparisons that Krishna was:
1. Born of a virgin.
2. That there was an infant massacre.
3. That there was a star in the East that guided the wise men to his birth.
4. Was crucified.
5. Was resurrected.
6. Krishna’s father was a carpenter, like Jesus’ father.
Firstly, never is a virgin birth attributed to Krishna. In fact, his parents had seven previous children. Some mythicists claim that Krishna was born to the virgin Maia, however what we find is that this is incorrect as according to our Hindu texts Krishna is the eighth son of Princess Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.
In the Gospels we read that King Herod felt threatened by Jesus’ birth, and that resorted to killing the infants in Bethlehem. Yet, is this a copy from a narrative concerning Krishna?
Not, it isn’t. Instead what we find is that Devaki’s six previous children were murdered by her cousin, King Kamsa, due to a prophecy foretelling his death at the hands of one of her children. This narrative tells us Kamsa only targeted Devaki’s sons, and never issued a command to kill male infants, unlike the gospel accounts. We read in ‘Bhagavata, Bk 4, XXII:7’ “Thus the six sons were born to Devaki and Kamsa, too, killed those six sons consecutively as they were born.”
Thirdly, what about the star and the wise men? This is a questionable parallel since Krishna was born in a prison and not a stable. Further, his parents bore him in secret.
Some have even alleged that Krishna was crucified like Jesus was, but crucifixion is never once mentioned in any Hindu text. However, we are told how Krishna dies. We read that he was mediating in the woods when he was accidentally shot in the foot by a hunter’s arrow. No crucifixion.
What about a resurrection? Firstly, we have zero evidence that Krishna descended into the grave for three days and appeared to many witnesses like Jesus allegedly did, as the mythicist claims. Instead, the actual account says that Krishna immediately returns to life and speaks only to the hunter where he forgives him of his actions.
Nevertheless, there are obvious differences between the resurrections of Jesus and Krishna’s appearance to the hunter who killed him. These are:
- Jesus’ resurrection defeated the power of sin and death. Krishna’s resurrection had no real effect on mankind.
- Jesus appeared to approximately 500 eye witnesses in the New Testament. Krishna appeared only to the hunter.
- Jesus rose from the dead three days later. Krishna immediately returned to life.
- Jesus did not ascend into Heaven until after the Great Commission. Krishna immediately “ascended” into the afterlife.
- Jesus was aware of what was to take place. Krishna had no foreknowledge concerning his death.
- Jesus ascended into a physical realm (Heaven). Krishna transcended into a mental state (or inconceivable region). The concepts between Heaven (Christianity) and Nirvana (Hinduism) differ greatly.
Lastly, what about Krishna’s father? Was his father, Vasudeva, a carpenter like Jesus’ Earthly father was? It is true that Krishna’s father was also said to be a carpenter, yet this is not suggested anywhere within our actual Hindu texts. What we are told is that Vasudeva was a nobleman in the courts of Mathura as he was married to Princess Devaki. However, when Krishna fled the wrath of Kamsa with his foster parents, we are told his foster-father Nanda was a cow herder: “Thou art the most beloved of Nanda, the Cow-herd” (Bhagavata, Bk 8, I, pg 743).
19. That Jesus was a copy of Attis is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Attis, they claim in the following comparisons that Attis was:
1. Born of a virgin.
2. Born on the 25th of December.
4. Was resurrected.
First, we can see that Attis was not born of a virgin. In fact, according to the legend, Agdistis arises from the Earth as a descendant of Zeus. Agdistis gives birth to the Sangarius river which brings forth the nymph, Nana, who either holds an almond to her breast and becomes impregnated by the almond or sits beneath a tree where an almond falls into her lap and impregnates her. Nana later abandons the child who is then raised by a goat. We are left to assume Attis was conceived from an almond seed which fell from a tree as a result of Zeus’ spilled semen. Not a virgin birth.
Again, as mentioned before, the 25th of December has no significance at all, we don’t know when Jesus was born, therefore, any alleged parallel cannot, logically, be a pagan parallel.
Thirdly, what about a crucifixion? Again, this is clearly questionable. We see that Attis castrates himself beneath a pine tree and thus dies from the bleeding. Attis castrates himself after he is made to go insane before his wedding by Agdistis. Subsequently, his blood flows onto the ground from his severed penis and brings forth a patch of violets. No crucifixion.
Fourthly, was Attis resurrected like Jesus? There are different accounts of this. In one narrative we find that Agdistis is overcome with remorse for what she had done (causing Attis to castrate himself and die because of it), and thus requests for Zeus to preserve the corpse of Attis so that it never decomposes. That is not a resurrection.
In the other account Agdistis and The Great Mother carry the pine tree back to a cave where they both mourn the death of Attis. Any resurrection story doesn’t surface until much later when Attis is transformed into a pine tree. Being transformed into a tree is vastly different from Jesus rising in bodily form from the dead.
20. That Jesus was a copy of the Buddha is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Buddha, they claim in the following comparisons that Buddha was:
1. Born of a virgin.
2. There wise men at Buddha’s birth.
3. Presented with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
4. Born on the 25th of December.
5. Descended from a royal lineage, like did Jesus.
First, Gautama was not born of a virgin, he was born to Suddhodana and his wife, Maya, of 20 years. Another reason for rejecting that Maya was a virgin is because she was the king’s favourite wife. The ‘Acts of the Buddha‘ shows us that Maya and her husband Suddhodana having sexual relations (for example, “the two tasted of love’s delight…”).
Secondly, there seems to be no mention of wise men at all in the Buddhist texts. There also seems to be no record of these specific gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What is, however, mentioned in a writing that post-dates Christianity we are told the gods (not wisemen) gave Gautama sandalwood, rain, water lilies, and lotus flowers for gifts – these are Buddhist symbols, and have nothing to do with Christianity. This is also not surprising as royal births are often celebrated with festivals and gifts in Buddhist culture.
Again, we are not told the birth date of Jesus, so this cannot be a parallel.
Unlike Jesus, Gautama was an immediate royal descendant born into privilege. Jesus was a distant descendant of King David born into poverty. They are basically opposites.
There seems to be no mention of a crucifixion in any Buddhist source. In fact, we are told that Gautama dies of natural causes at the age of 80. His followers accompany him to a river and provide him with a couch: “Be so good as to spread me a couch… I am weary and wish to lie down…’ Then the [Buddha] fell into a deep meditation, and having passed through the four jhanas, entered Nirvana.”
22. That Jesus was a copy parallel of Zoroaster is rejected by scholars.
Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Zoroaster, they claim in the following comparisons that Zoroaster was:
1. Born of a virgin.
2. Tempted in the wilderness.
3. Began his ministry at age 30, like Jesus.
4. Sacrificed for mankind’s sins.
There is no mention of a virgin birth in any Zoroastrian text nor do the events of Zoroaster’s birth seem to have any relation to Jesus. In fact, there are two different accounts of his birth. In one narrative Zoroaster’s parents, Dukdaub and Pourushasp, were a normal married couple who conceived a son through natural means. Zoroaster is described as laughing when he is born as well as having a visible, glowing aura about him:
“[Zoroaster] had come into the posterity…who are Pourushasp, his father, and Dukdaub who is his mother. And also while he is being born and for the duration of life, he produced a radiance, glow, and brilliance from the place of his own abode…” (Denkard, Bk 5 2:1-2)
In the other narrative, which is a later text, an embellishment is added by the Zoroastrian followers. In this narrative we are told that Ahura Mazda (the main deity of Zoroastrianism) implants the soul of Zoroaster into the sacred Haoma plant and through the plant’s milk Zoroaster is born. Nothing here is like a virgin birth.
But was Zoroaster also tempted by an evil spirit to renounce his faith with the promise of receiving power over the nations, like Jesus was?
This story is found in the Vendidad, a Zoroastrian text which lists the laws regarding demons. However, this was written well after the life of Jesus somewhere between 250 – 650 AD. Because of this late date the early Christian scribes could not have copied anything in this text. What we do read, however, sounds strikingly familiar to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. According to ‘Vendidad Fargad 19:6’: “Again to him said the Maker of the evil world, Angra Mainyu: ‘Do not destroy my creatures, O holy Zarathushtra… Renounce the good Religion of the worshippers of Mazda, and thou shalt gain such a boon as…the ruler of the nations.'”
Like Jesus, Zoroaster was believed to have begun his teachings at the age of 30. Though Zoroaster technically came out of seclusion at the age of 30 to begin his teachings, he was shunned and ignored for 12 years until his religion was accepted by King Vishtaspa. However, the story surrounding Jesus differs greatly. Jesus attracted followers instantly, and Zoroaster was believed to be killed around the age of 77 while Jesus was killed at the age of 33. Any parallels become questionable on the basis that Zoroaster is not mentioned in texts until to around 225 AD; that is almost 200 years after Christianity had already been in circulation.
Lastly, was Zoroaster’s death spiritually significant? It is believed Zoroaster was killed at the age of 77 after being slaughtered on one of his temple altars by Turanian invaders. However this aspect of his life is debated by scholars. Either way, his death was never believed to atone for sin or to hold any other spiritual purposes.
23. Jesus’ crucifixion in comparison to other alleged deities is unique.
Kersey Graves in his book ‘The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors’, names the following as crucified deities, and therefore, the crucifixion of Jesus is a pagan copy. Well, let’s analyze these crucifixions to see if they actually, firstly, are crucifixions:
- Mithras – Mithras was carried into heaven on a chariot, alive. This is not a crucifixion.
- Bali – There are various accounts regarding Bali’s death. One says that he was forced down (bodily) into the underworld after being deceived by Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu. In other accounts, Bali is said to have been released and granted kingship. No crucifixion occurs in either story.
- Romulus – Romulus was not crucified, but rather is said to have been taken up into the heavens while still alive.
- Quirinus – No accounts seem to indicate him dying.
- Iao and Wittoba – there seems to be no information regarding the deaths of these two figures in any original sources.
- Orpheus – He was not crucified, but said to have been killed by Dionysus’ frenzied maenads after refusing to worship any god but Apollo.
- Bel – He is often associated with Zeus, and no accounts seem to indicate his death.
- Prometheus – He was chained to a mountain where an eagle ate his liver on a daily basis, as punishment from Zeus. Hercules would later free him. No crucifixion.
- Indra – There are different accounts of Indra’s death. In one narrative he is swallowed alive by a serpent called Vritra. Vritra then spits him out at the commands of some other gods. Because Indra is saved by the gods there is no death, nor a crucifixion.
- Dionysus – There is no crucifixion, instead he was eaten alive by Titans during infancy.
- Esus/Hesus – His followers would participate in human sacrifices by hanging a victim from a tree after disembowelment. There is no mention of a crucifixion.
- Attis – Attis bled to death after castrating himself below a tree.
- Alcestis – Alcestis agrees to die for her husband after he makes a deal with the gods. When the time comes, Alcestis is described as being in bed. The gods are touched by her devotion, take pity on her, and reunite her with her husband. No crucifixion is indicated here.
- Tammuz – He was allegedly killed by demons sent by Ishtar after she found him on her throne. Not a crucifixion.
- Krishna – Krishna was never crucified as he was shot in the foot with an arrow while he was meditating in a forest.
- Osiris – Osiris was tricked by Set, then sealed into a chest, and dumped into the Nile. The method of crucifixion was not even invented by this time.
- Questzalcoatl – Quetzalcoatl is never crucified at all. In one narrative he burns himself alive out of guilt for sleeping with a celibate priestess. In a different narrative we are told he was burnt by fire that was sent by the gods.