Every time I hear someone say that the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is nothing more than recycled ideas from mystery religious cults and myths, it just reminds of me of that famous line by British playwright George Bernard Shaw, “People would rather die than think”. The standard line goes something like this, “Well, you do know that there really is nothing Jesus either said or did that is laid out in the gospels that cannot be found in the pagan mystery rites and stories of Mithras, Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, and many many others.” To which I respond, “Oh, really?”
French scholar Andre Boulanger said, “The conception that the god dies and is resurrected in order to lead his faithful to eternal life is represented in no Hellenistic mystery religion”. Now, if Boulanger’s statement is historically accurate than why do most people today think and state the contrary? A) They just heard it somewhere as a pop culture catch-all phrase and don’t really study in-depth the ancient world. Or B) They are reading revisionist historians like Freke, Gandy, Harpur, Graves, and many others that blur the lines between the utter uniqueness of the Christ story with pagan religions. Many like to start with the Persian myth of Mithras, claiming virgin birth and sacrificial death. But legend tells us that Mithras was born out of a rock fully formed, and his sacrifice to the gods was not Himself but rather a bull. There is no virgin birth in the stories of Persus or Dionysus, Greek mythology is clear about that. So then, what about the story of Adonis’ resurrection many would ask. There is a lot of truth to that but along with the resurrections of Murduk and Attis, these are all post-dated some 150 to 350 years after Christ. And the word in Greek for Christ’s resurrection is not the same as the Greek word for the others. One was a literal bodily resurrection and the others were just resuscitations.
Now, a favorite to bring up in this area of discussion for many is the intriguing myth of Osiris. Here we have a clear cut resurrection, but he never gets up from underground. The Roman historian Plutarch writes about this 200 years after Christ. So, how could all of these myths that post-date the era of the Christian martyrs of the early church have any influence on them? The fact is, they didn’t. Those who are not thinking this through have their chronology all backwards. All today’s revisionists have are sweeping generalizations based on questionable evidence that could never stand up under the scrutiny of careful investigation. World renowned historian of religion Mircea Eliade in his three-volume definitive set on the history of religion from the pre-stone age until the late 20th century said,”There is no reason to suppose that primitive Christianity was influenced by the Hellenistic mysteries.” This does not account for the later post-Constantinian church 300 years later that incorporated some of the myths. Eliade was referring to the early church that died specifically for what they believed in full public view, the early first century text of the writings of the New Testament and the early Roman historians that wrote about them of the late first and early second centuries.
So, why is this so important to try and set the record straight on this comment misconception? Because it is just another excuse for people to not look seriously into the absolute uniqueness of the Christ story. It is just another excuse to punt the issue. But when all of the excuses have run out it will take honest intellectual and personal fortitude to embrace Christ as not just another fable, but rather to face Him and his claims head on. And it will take that to dispel self deception and the deception around us in order to get to the root of the problems that can bring the antidote to a sick world that is reeling out of control on the edge of vertigo.
References and more info at the links:
Why the Christ story is not a copycat of ancient religious myths by Rocket Kirchner (if you’d like to view the comments on the original blog post)