Jesus Christ and Mythology:
Copy Cat Savior?
I. No similarities to Jesus or what he offers
1) Similarities nonexistent
Not only do all of these figures miss on every count that Till mentions but none of them were healers, none of them were moral teachers, and none of them as much as were excited in public; they all died (if they died) through the treachery of friends or the slaughter of enemies in battle or ambush. There are greater similarities with other figures perhaps, but one should check the date of the artifacts and stories, because changes are they are influenced by Christianity, or examine the details because most of the time similarities are exaggerated.
2) Scholars rule out conscious borrowing
Most scholars rule out any sort of borrowing by Christianity from the mystery cults for their notions of rebirth and salvation. There may have been some linguistic influences, but the most direct would have been Hellenistic, not Persian or
Egyptian. (See W. F. Flemington, The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism (London: SPCK, 1948), 76-81.)
3) Careless language and No Critical Distinctions
The main problem however is that these groups offered nothing that was really like that which Christianity offered. Rooted as it is in Jewish Messianic expectations, it is foolish to try and carry over such superficial similarities as if they are the very essence of religion. Lots of cultures can have religious meals, and
absolution rites. There are merely surface things, the mere presence of such rituals tells us nothing about the ideas of the group. Christian baptism offers an image of solidarity with the savior who sacrificed his life for us. The notion of rebirth is centered in that concept, rising to walk in newness of life. Jesus was reinvigorated, he did not merely mimic life, he took on a new life, robust and glorified but every bit like the one he had before, flesh and blood vitality. None of these pagan myths offer that sort of resurrection, nor do they offer the sort of union with God upon which Christianity bases its view of salvation.
Reinhold Neibuhr (Greatest American
Theologian) quoted by Nash
The page is titled: "Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?"
"Many alleged similarities between Christianity and the mysteries are either greatly exaggerated or fabricated. Scholars often describe pagan rituals in language they borrow from Christianity. The careless use of language could lead one to speak of a "Last Supper" in Mithraism or a "baptism" in the cult of Isis. It is inexcusable nonsense to take the word "savior" with all of its New Testament connotations and apply it to Osiris or Attis as though they were savior-gods in any similar sense."
4) Nash Summarizes differences in Jesus and Pagan "Saviors"
"Was The New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?"
by Ronald Nash
from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1994, p 8
Elliot Miller Editor-in-Chief
(1) None of the so-called savior-gods died for someone else. The notion of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity.
(2) Only Jesus died for sin. As Gunter Wagner observes, to none of the pagan gods "has the intention of helping men been attributed. The sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting accident, self-emasculation, etc.)."
(3) Jesus died once and for all (Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28; 10:10-14). In contrast, the mystery gods were vegetation deities whose repeated deaths and resuscitations depict the annual cycle of nature.
(4) Jesus' death was an actual event in history. The death of the mystery god appears in a mythical drama with no historical ties; its continued rehearsal celebrates the recurring death and rebirth of nature. The incontestable fact that the early church believed that its proclamation of Jesus' death and resurrection was grounded in an actual historical event makes absurd any attempt to derive this belief from the mythical, non historical stories of the pagan cults.
(5) Unlike the mystery gods, Jesus died voluntarily. Nothing like this appears even implicitly in the mysteries.
(6) And finally, Jesus' death was not a defeat but a triumph. Christianity stands entirely apart from the pagan mysteries in that its report of Jesus' death is a message of triumph. Even as Jesus was experiencing the pain and humiliation of the cross, He was the victor. The New Testament's mood of exultation contrasts sharply with that of the mystery religions, whose followers wept and mourned for the terrible fate that overtook their gods.
[Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000.]
III. An Examination of Syncretic Elements Reveals Borrowing My Have Gone the Other Way.
To some people the idea that elements of a religion must be original for that religion to contain truth content. But this "cultural influence" is not to say that the ideas of early Christianity were not original. The ideas of early Christianity were interpretations of events based upon the cultural understanding of the first century Jews of Palestine, and the thought patterns of those people were cross fertilized with other cultures, but they were also forged of their own unique experiences as Jews with God. Who is to say that the bread and wine were influences from pagan religion, or hold overs from the Passover, which also uses bread and wine, or both?
A. Original Claims Based Upon 19th Century Christian Scholarship
Nor is this notion of borrowing some new idea that modern skeptics invented, it is the hallmark of 19th century liberal Christian theology! One of the first to embark upon it was Otto Pfleiderer (1836-1900) who has been
doubted "the father of the religion-historical school in Germany," and a Christian theologian (see Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament from 1861-1961, London: Oxford University Press, 1964, 158). Many other theologians followed suit at the turn of the century. Even the major notions skeptics harp on the most, initiation ceremonies for eternal life (such as baptism) ritual meals with bread and wine (such as the Lord's supper) and the same words and phrases, Born to eternity, born again, born to eternal life, all were examined and put forward as originating in paganism by Christian theologians of 19th century liberalism (Ibid.). For most of them it did not destroy their faith, and it should not destroy ours. But neither should we stop with this word of reassurance. There are also good indications that the borrowing either went the other way, or was merely the coincidental happenstance of a common cultural background.
B. Most Mystery Syncretic Elements Do NOT Pre-date Gospels
Whiteley: (Theology of St. Paul)
"Most of our extant evidence for the mystery cults comes from after the time of St. Paul. For example Apuleius, whose Golden Ass ..is one of our sources for these cults, wrote in the third quarter of the second century A.D. The magical
papyri and hermetic writings, at least in their present form, are too late to have influenced St. Paul." The Theology of St Paul (p.2)
"Was The New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?"
by Ronald Nash
from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 19994, p 8
Elliot Miller Editor-in-Chief
"It is not until we come to the third century A.D. that we find sufficient source material (i.e., information about the mystery religions from the writings of the time) to permit a relatively complete reconstruction of their content. Far too many writers use this late source material (after A.D. 200) to form reconstruction's of the third-century mystery experience and then uncritically reason back to what they think must have been the earlier nature of the cults. This practice is exceptionally bad scholarship and should not be allowed to stand without challenge. Information about a cult that comes several hundred years after the close of the New Testament canon must not be read back into what is presumed to be the status of the cult during the first century A.D. The crucial question is not what possible influence the mysteries may have had on segments of Christendom after A.D. 400, but what effect the emerging mysteries may have had on the New Testament in the first century."
1) Mystery cult feast not predate Gospels
One of the major similarities is the notion of the feast, featuring bread and wine, especially the phrase used by Paul "the Lord's table." (1 Cor. 10:21)Mystery cults had such initiator and ritual feasts, corresponding to the Lord's Supper. Hans Leitzmann, Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, vol ix (1931) documents no pre-Christian examples of have been found for the phrase "The Lord's Table."
There is a famous letter form Oxyrhynchus [Egypt] which speaks of the table or festival meal of "the lord Serapis." Stephen Neil points out that this phrase is by no means common, "not more than a dozen examples of it can be quoted from ancient literature, the inscriptions and the papyri." (171) Moreover, the Oxyrhynchus letter was written in the third century AD, and by that time the home of the Sarapis cult, Alexandria, was already a major Christian center. "...we have to reckon also with the possibility that when Chaeremon writes of the 'table of the lord Serapus' the borrowing is really the other way." (Ibid.,171).
"Of all the mystery cults, only Mithraism had anything that resembled the Lord's Supper. A piece of bread and a cup of water were placed before initiates while the priest of Mithra spoke some ceremonial words. But the late introduction of this ritual precludes its having any influence upon first-century Christianity." (Ronald Nash, Christian Research Journal, Winter 1994, p. 8)
2) 'reborn for eternity' and Baptism
This phrase was used by Christian scholar Kirsop Lake to link Christian baptism to the mystery cults, since it was a euphemism for baptism in the early church. This was also a pagan phrase from the mystery cults. The phrase renatus in aeternum ..(reborn for eternity) is often alleged to be connected with the rites of
Mithras, but Neil points out that there is no evidence to support this view. (172). The phrase more properly belongs to the cult of the great mother of Asia, or to Attis, and the ceremony known as the Taurobolium. In this ceremony a pit was dug, priests went into the pit, wood was placed over the opening, a bull was slain and the blood allowed to drip down onto the priests. Skeptics often liken this to either baptism or to being "washed in the blood" of Jesus! This is where, they claim, Christians got all of these ideas. The Priest who emerged from the pit was reborn for eternity. Neil shows that the first recorded instance of the ceremony was in the middle of the second century. This does not mean that the borrowing went from Christian to pagan, or even that this was the first ensconce of the ceremony. But Neil potions out that it did not become popular until the third of fourth century, according to all available evidence. Thus the possibility of borrowing from paganism is unlikely. (Ibid). Especially since baptism was a Jewish ritual and Judaism is full of ancient notions of blood and animal sacrifice through Passover and day of atonement.
3) Baptism and Blood.
Scholars such as R. Reitzenstein connects Paul's imagery (Romans 6) for the believers death and rebirth through baptism, and Christ's redemption by blood, and come up with the connection to the Taurobolium and influence from
Mithraism. Gunter Wagner in his exhaustive study Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries ( 1963) points out "The taurobolium in the Attis cult is first attested in the time of Antoninus Pius for A.D. 160. As far as we can see at present it only became a personal consecration at the beginning of the third century A.D. The idea of a rebirth through the instrumentality of the taurobolium only emerges in isolated instances towards the end of the fourth century A.D.; it is not originally associated with this bloodbath "[p. 266].
Bruce Metzger in "Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity" (Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish and Christian (1968), notes:
"Thus, for example, one must doubtless interpret the change in the efficacy attributed to the rite of the taurobolium. In competing with Christianity, which promised eternal life to its adherents, the cult of Cybele officially or unofficially raised the efficacy of the blood bath from twenty years to eternity "[p. 11].Neil quotes one of the grates, professor A.D. Knock as saying that this phrase renatus in Aeternum is found in only three places and all form the fourth century (AD). Making the likelihood of borrowing very remote (Ibid.) As with most of these kinds of arguments, always check to find the date of the occurrence of pagan ritual. Chances are they come from post-Christian times.
"Another aspect of comparisons between the resurrection of Christ and the mythological mysteries is that the alleged parallels are quite inexact. It is an error, for example, to believe that the initiation into the mysteries of Isis, as described in Apuleius's The Golden Ass, IS comparable to Christianity. For one thing, the hero, Lucius, had to pay a fortune to undergo his initiation. And as Wagner correctly observes: "Isis does not promise the mystes immortality, but only that henceforth he shall live under her protection, and that when at length he goes down to the realm of the dead he shall adore her . . ." (op. cit., p. 112).
C. Advocates of Mythical Borrowing Gloss Over Differences.
1) Poor Scholarship and the dangers in trusting it.
Kane says of Mithras:
"Baptism in the blood of the bull (taurobolum) -- early
Baptism "washed in the blood of the Lamb" -- late"
But Ronald Nash shows that this is not the phrase of some ancient Mithritic text, but the words of a modern scholar carelessly applied:
Enough has been said thus far to permit comment on one of the major faults of the above-mentioned liberal scholars. I refer to the frequency with which their writings evidence a careless, even sloppy use of language. One frequently encounters scholars who first use Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices, and then marvel at the striking parallels they think they have discovered. One can go a long way toward "proving" early Christian dependence on the mysteries by describing some mystery belief or practice in Christian terminology. J. Godwin does this in his book, Mystery Religions in the Ancient World, which describes the criobolium (see footnote 6) as a "blood baptism" in which the initiate is "washed in the blood of the
lamb." (Nash, p.8) [Jocelyn Godwin, Mystery Religions in the Ancient World (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), 111]
That really sums up most of the issue. Most of these instances come from willful and careless reading in of Christian terms and concepts where they do not belong.
2) Careless or Purposeful misapplication of Language.
Kane is so careless with his scholarship. Let's look at what he says about
Every year in Rome, in the middle of winter, the Son of God was born one more, putting an end to darkness. Every year at first minute of December 25th the temple of Mithras was lit with candles, priests in in white garments celebrated the birth of the Son of God and boys burned incense.
This has nothing to do with Pagan influence of the New Testament since celebration of Dec. 25 as the Birthday of Christ came much latter, and we know it was laid over pagan holidays.
Mithras was born in a cave, on December 25th, of a virgin mother. He came from heaven to be born as a man, to redeem men from their sin. He was know as "Savior," "Son of God," "Redeemer," and "Lamb of God."
Actually, as already documented he was born form a rock. This may be what Achyra S is calling "a cave." There is no record of his virgin mother. The rest of this language is clearly borrowed from Christianity. As will be documented (and has been alluded to) we have no early texts and even few late ones of Mithras to base this on. What we do have suggests that in his Persian incarnation he protected sheep, this is probably being striated into "Lamb of God." There is no record of him being called savior, except one late excerpt which post dates Christianity. (documented p. I)
He was buried in a tomb from which he rose again from the dead -- an event celebrated yearly with much rejoicing.
His followers kept the Sabbath holy, holding sacramental feasts in remembrance of Him. The sacred meal of bread and water, or bread and wine, was symbolic of the body and blood of the sacred bull.
This is totally bogus. There is no such myth and I suspect it comes form Achyra S. Where did they get the notion that bread and wine were substituted for the bull? Are they even referring to bread and wine taken by the Mirthratic cult or by the early church? If the latter it comes from the Passover and has nothing to do with Mithra's bull. But where does the bull come from? Mithra had to fight a
cosmic bull to protect the sun. The blood shed was the Bulls! It was not connected to any crucifixion of Mithra, and not shed for atonement in any way!
D. Intentional Pagan Borrowing From Christianity
Reinhold Neibuhr: Perhaps America's Greatest Theologian, points out that some influence of Christianity upon Paganism was intentional
The page is titled: "Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?"
"It should not be surprising that leaders of cults that were being successfully challenged by Christianity should do some thing to counter the
challenge. What better way to do this than by offering pagan substitute? Pagan attempts to counter the growing influence of Christianity by imitating it are clearly apparent in measures instituted by Julian the Apostate, who was the Roman emperor from A.D. 361 to 363."