Brain makes two central arguments in his ‘Proof 3 – Look at historical gods’ for the non-existence of God:
i. Ancient people within ancient civilizations, such as the Romans, the Greeks, and Aztecs worshiped gods.
ii. The Christian God and Jesus have been invented out of pagan myths that predated Christianity, therefore like these other false pagan religions Christianity is also false.
These are the two arguments Brian has forwarded in this post. Somewhat uncontroversially, argument [i] can be rejected as an argument against the Christian God, or any god/God for that matter, on the grounds that it merely states a socio-anthropological fact about ancient human civilization, namely, that ancient human beings have worshiped gods and that this often took place in the confines of polytheism (the belief in many gods). [i] has no bearing on whether or not the Christian God exists and also fails to satisfy the burden of proof needed to justify Brain’s proposition that “God is imaginary.” Nonetheless, I agree with Brain that we are on good grounds in rejecting these gods, even if Brain merely assumes that these polytheistic religions and gods are false. If readers are interested in the reasons for rejecting these pagan gods please consult my short entry ‘Why I Don’t Believe in Thor, Zeus, Horus & All the Other “Mythological” Gods.’
Argument [ii] which argues that Jesus was invented from pagan myths is reducible to the following two main claims:
[a]. Catholics borrowed elements from myths and incorporated these into their traditions. These included the likes of Egyptian sun disks that became the halos of Catholic saints, pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus that became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus etc.
[b]. That Jesus is a copy of the pagan gods Mithras, Osiris, Adonis, Krishna, and Dionysus. These include Jesus’ birth story in which he was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Krishna), his birthday on December 25 (Mithras, Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus), his burial in a rock tomb (Mithras), and his resurrection (Mithras). We will call this argument the “copycat hypothesis.”
Argument [a] can be rejected on the grounds that what traditions and customs Catholics at a later stage post the advent of 1st century Christianity incorporated into their practices says nothing for or against whether or not Jesus is God incarnate or if the Christian God exists. More interesting, however, is Brain’s claim that Horus “became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus etc.” Evidently, Brain does not explain what he means by blueprint. Nonetheless, according to Christian belief, Mary, Jesus’ mother, was married to her husband Joseph, and despite them never having engaged in sexual intercourse Jesus was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:23-25, Lk 1:26-38). Is there any relationship or parallel between the biblical story and the conceptions of the Egyptian god Horus? One would have to go to great lengths to ever establish this. The problem is that Isis, who bore Horus, was not a virgin like Mary is said to be in the biblical story. Isis was actually the widow of Osiris and conceived Horus with Osiris (1). One would then wonder how this story would become “the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus” when the stories are so different.
Where [b] is concerned two major issues stand out. Two articles he linked to as support for the copycat hypothesis are wikipedia entries. This suggests that Brain could not have engaged the topic at any length beyond a quick wikipedia reading. The other entry Brain linked in support for his hypothesis is an article entitled ‘The Myth of the Resurrection’ penned by Joseph McCabe. This article was penned shy of a century ago, and scholarship of antiquities, historical Jesus studies, New Testament, and classical history has moved on a great deal since the mid 1920s, and not in favour of the hypotheses presented in McCabe’s essay and in Brain’s own piece. Brain has however not appealed to any credentialed contemporary scholars who are professional historians proposing the copycat hypothesis. Why? Because no professional historian is interested in nor is willing to spend their time on fringe conspiracy theories predominantly circulated on atheist web forums and website such as Brain’s own.
Brain, however, suggests that “It is extremely hard for a Christian believer to process this data… Once you understand the fundamental truth of Christianity’s origins, the silliness of the whole thing becomes apparent.” This brings us to the additional issue in Brains entry: what source material and/or academic scholarship has he cited in favour of [b]? None. Surely if one attempts to establish the positive case for historical hypotheses it would entail engaging primary source material and the views of professional academics who make a living from engaging those materials? However, not a single source is cited in this entry which leads one to wonder if Brain has just made these claims up as opposed to engaging in any substantive research effort.
Lack of citations aside, the alleged parallels stated in [b] seem quite implausible. How so? The claim is that the historical Jesus’ birthday was on December 25 and that this was in some way copied from other pagan gods sharing the same birthday (such as from Mithras, Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus) cannot be true. No historical source from the New Testament ever mentions the day the historical Jesus was born and thus no-one can know the exact time of Jesus’ birthday, despite the fact that two of our gospels reference important stories believed to have taken place at the time of Christ’s birth and shortly after. Brian claims that like Krishna, Jesus, at his birth, was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifs received by Jesus are recorded in Matthew’s gospel (2:1-12) and is alleged to be another parallel supporting the copycat hypothesis. However, this is questionable on the basis that Hindu tradition holds that Krishna was born in a prison (2) (quite different from that of a manger) with there being no mention of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (3).
Moreover, what of Brain’s alleged parallels between Jesus and Mithras as in the burial and resurrection? Here Brain’s lack of citation really stands out because scholars have long known of the ostensible lack of historical evidence for Mithraism with most of its evidence coming from archaeological findings as opposed to textual artifacts. If so, one then must then wonder where Brain obtained his information from saying that Mithras was buried in a tomb and resurrected. To the contrary, historian and professor Edwin Yamauchi is clear on our current lack of knowledge in this area: “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” (4). Further, Mithraism is believed to have flowered only after the advent of 1st century Christianity which would appear to undercut the copycat hypothesis. Professor Ronald Nash explains this saying 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… Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds” (5).
In drawing this entry to a close it seems clear that the few arguments proposed by Brain here are ahistorical and flimsy at best. Not only do the alleged parallels fail to actually be parallels at all or be suggestive of a relationship between pagan gods and the historical Jesus but Brain has also done little work to justify his initial proposition that “God is imaginary.”
1. Assmann, J. 2001. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. p. 24-25.
2. Bakker, H. 1990. The History of Sacred Places in India As Reflected in Traditional Literature. p. 6-7.
3. Welborn, A. 2004. De-coding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code. p. 87.
4. Quoted by Lee Strobel (2009) in Defending the New Testament Jesus. Available.
5. Nash, R. 1984. Christianity and the Hellenistic World. p. 147.