DO PARTS OF THE GOSPELS COME FROM PAGAN MYTHOLOGY?


Overview

There are many dozens of events in the gospels that are very similar, or identical, to incidents which appeared centuries before, in the stories of Pagan hero/saviors. These godmen were worshiped by the priesthood and laity of Mediterranean and Middle East religions. This linkage was known by many early Christian writers. They attributed the parallels to Satan. They figured that the devil had influenced the creation of Pagan religions in the centuries before Jesus' birth. The devil had caused those religions to worship saviors whose lives were nearly identical to Jesus'. Satan's purpose was to make a pre-emptive strike against the gospel stories centuries before Jesus was born. The devil would thereby discredit them, using the technique of diabolical mimicry. Other Christian theologians have taught that Pagan myths were simply pre-echoes of Jesus' life -- a form of prophecy or premonition. There are other possible reasons for the linkages.
Modern-day conservative Christians either discount the similarities of gospel and pagan stories, or agree with the assessments of early Christians. Some of the most radical of liberal Christians see Jesus as simply the Jewish equivalent of a Pagan savior, such as the Egyptian Osiris or Greek Dionysus. They view Jesus' biography in the gospels as having been largely lifted from Paganism.

Quotations

...are our..[Pagan beliefs] to be accounted myths and theirs [the Christians'] believed? What reasons do the Christians give for the distinctiveness of their beliefs? In truth, there is nothing at all unusual about what the Christians believe... Celsus, late 2nd century CE, commenting on the similarities between Pagan and Christian beliefs.
The devil, whose business is to pervert the truth, mimics the exact circumstances of the Divine Sacraments...Thus he celebrates the oblation of bread, and brings in the symbol of the resurrection. Let us therefore acknowledge the craftiness of the devil, who copies certain things of those that be Divine. Tertullian, late 2nd century CE, commenting on the many similarities between Mithraism and Christianity.
He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made on with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation. An inscription to Mithras which parallels John 6:53-54.
What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us! Pope Leo X
Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it. C. Dennis McKinsey
There is not a conception associated with Christ that is not common to some or all of the Savior cults of antiquity. J.M. Robertson

Christian reaction to possible Pagan origins of the Gospels

To many conservative Christians, this essay's title borders on blasphemy. The gospels, and the rest of the Bible, are not just ordinary books. They are the inerrant, inspired Word of God. The gospels describe Jesus' life, from his conception to ascension, precisely as they happened circa 5 BCE to circa 30 CE. There certainly were Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other Pagan beliefs circulating in 1st century Palestine. However, material in the gospels could not have come from those sources. God prevented Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from making any errors in writing. No incorporation of Pagan legends would have been possible.The points of similarities must have resulted from other influences.
Nothing in the gospels came from Pagan sources. The question is ridiculous; it is not even worth investigating.
To many liberal Christians, the question is worth studying. Many Pagan religious belief systems permeated the Mediterranean region in the 1st century CE. There were various male heroes within Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other Pagan pantheons of Gods, whose role was to be saviors to humanity -- much like Jesus. In order to compete with those religions, Christianity would have had to describe Jesus in terms that matched or surpassed the Pagan legends. The authors of the gospels may well have picked up themes from other sources and added them to their writings in order to make Christianity more credible to a Pagan world. By isolating and removing such foreign material, we might be able to get a clearer picture of what Jesus taught and how he lived.

Pagan saviors of humanity:

Pagan spirituality in ancient times was composed of two components:
The Outer Mysteries consisted of Pagan beliefs and practices which were widely disseminated and taught to the general public. Knowledge of these has been preserved in historical records.
The Inner Mysteries were revealed only to those who had been initiated into the Pagan religions. The initiates learned that Osiris-Dionysus was not a historical person. His legends were simple spiritual allegories encoding spiritual teachings. 1 Late in the 4th century CE, Christianity was established as the state religion. Pagans were given the choice of converting to Christianity, being exterminated or being exiled. Their temples were either stolen for use as Christian churches, or destroyed. Eventually, detailed knowledge of the inner mysteries was lost.
The core of the Outer and Inner mysteries was a mythical, male entity who was part god and part human -- often referred to as a godman. The biographies of these godmen were consistent from religion to religion. The main difference among the faiths was his name:
Alexandria: Aion
Asia Minor: Attis
Babylonia: Antiochus
Egypt: Osiris
Greece: Dionysus, Asclepius
Syria: Adonis
Italy: Bacchus
Persia: Mithras
These were viewed as mythical characters. There were also some self-proclaimed godmen -- humans who actually lived on earth. Two are:
Samos, Italy: Pythagoras (569 to circa 475 BCE)
Sicily: Empedocles (circa 450 to 390 BCE)
Osiris in Egypt may have been the first godman. His story has been found recorded in pyramid texts which were written prior to 2,500 BCE.
These saviors were truly interchangeable. Coins have been found with Dionysus on one side and Mithras on the other. A person who was initiated into one of the mysteries had no difficulty switching to another Pagan mystery religion.
In the 3rd century CE, these godmen were referred to by the composite name Osiris-Dionysus. Authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy have used this term in their book The Jesus Mysteries. 1

Life events shared by Osiris-Dionysus and Jesus

The following stories appear both in the Gospels and in the myths of many of the godmen:
Conception:
God was his father. This was believed to be literally true in the case of Osiris-Dionysus; their God came to earth and engaged in sexual intercourse with a human. The father of Jesus is God in the form of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18).
A human woman, a virgin, was his mother.Birth:
He was born in a cave or cowshed. Luke 2:7 mentions that Jesus was placed in a manger - an eating trough for animals. An early Christian tradition said that the manger was in a cave.
His birth was prophesized by a star in the heavens.Ministry:
At a marriage ceremony, he performed the miracle of converting water into wine.
He was powerless to perform miracles in his home town.
His followers were born-again through baptism in water.
He rode triumphantly into a city on a donkey. Tradition records that the inhabitants waved palm leaves.
He had 12 disciples.
He was accused of licentious behavior.Execution, resurrection, etc:
He was killed near the time of the Vernal Equinox, about MAR-21.
He died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. 1
He was hung on a tree, stake, or cross.
After death, he descended into hell.
On the third day after his death, he returned to life.
The cave where he was laid was visited by three of his female followers
He later ascended to heaven.His titles:
God made flesh.
Savior of the world.
Son of God.Beliefs about the Godman:
He is God made man, and equal to the Father.
He will return in the last days.
He will judge the human race at that time.
Humans are separated from God by original sin. The godman's sacrificial death reunites the believer with God and atones for the original sin.
All of the Pagan myths had been circulating for centuries before Jesus birth (circa 4 to 7 BCE). It is obvious that if any copying occurred, it was the followers of Jesus incorporating into his biography the myths and legends of Osiris-Dionysus, not vice-versa.

Life events shared by Jesus and one other godman

Some stories appear both in Jesus' biography and in the legends of a single godman:
Mother's pregnancy: It was a common belief among early Christians that Mary was pregnant for only seven months. This legend is preserved in the Gospel of the Hebrews. Although this gospel was widely used by early Christians, it was never accepted into the official canon. Semele, mother of Dionysus, was also believed to have had a 7 month pregnancy.
Virgin birth: Author William Harwood has written that Jesus' equation in Greek eyes with the resurrected savior-god Dionysos led an interpolator to insert a virgin-birth myth into the gospel now known as Matthew. 5
Birth Witnesses:
The gospel of Matthew records that Jesus was visited by an unknown number of wise men, called Magi.
Freke & Gandy identify them as followers of the godman Mithras from Persia.
Most other sources believe that they were Zoroastrian priests from Persia who were experts in astrology. There is a Zoroastrian belief that a son of Zoroaster will be born many years after his death by a virgin...This son will apparantly [sic] raise the dead and crush the forces of evil. Later Christians got rather excited about this apparant [sic] pagan prophecy of the coming of the Messiah... 4The gospel of Luke records that Jesus was visited by three shepherds. Mithra the godman from Persia was also visited shortly after birth by three shepherds.
The magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. A Pagan belief from the 6th century BCE states that these are the precise materials to use when worshiping God.Healing: Jesus is recorded throughout the gospels as healing the sick and restoring the dead to life. So was Asclepius, a Greek godman. Pagans and early Christians debated who was the more effective healer.
Ministry: Jesus appeared as a wandering holy man who is later transfigured in the presence of some of his disciples. Dionysus was portrayed in the same manner in Euripides' play The Bacchae, written in 410 BCE.
Miracles:
Both Jesus and Empedocles were recorded as teaching spiritual truths, curing illness, foretelling the future, controlling the wind and rain, and raising people from the dead.
Both Mithra and Jesus performed many healings of the sick and mentally ill; both raised the dead. 3
Mark, chapter 5 describes Jesus driving demons from a man into a herd of about 2,000 pigs who rushed over a cliff and drowned. In Eleusis, about 2,000 initiates would bathe in the sea. Each had a young pig to which the believers' sins would be transferred. The pigs were then chased over a chasm and killed.Fishing: John 21:11 records that Jesus performed a miracle which enabled Simon Peter to catch exactly 153 fish. The Pagan Pythagoras considered 153 a sacred number. The ratio of 153 to 265 was referred to by the Pagan Archimedes as the measure of the fish. That ratio is used to generate a fish-like shape using two circles. The sign of the fish was used by the early Christians as their main symbol.
Arrest:
Both celebrated a Last Supper with his 12 disciples before his death.
Dionysus is described in Euripides' play The Bacchae as bringing a new religion to the people, being plotted against by the leaders, being arrested and appearing before the political ruler. Dionysus said to his captors You know not what you are doing.., almost replicating Jesus' words at the cross. He was unjustly accused and executed. All of these themes are seen in the Gospels.Crucifixion & resurrection:
An ancient Greek amulet has been preserved from the 3rd century BCE. It shows a man being crucified on a Roman cross. The caption reads Orpheus Bacchus one of the pseudonyms of Osiris-Dionysus. A photograph can be seen at Amazon.com.
Jesus' body was wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh and aloe. Osiris was also said to have been wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh.
Again, the godmen myths had been circulating well before Jesus birth. The Christians would have copied earlier Pagan material, not vice-versa.

Similarities between Pagan and Christian practices

The early Christians and Pagans shared many rituals and practices. Freke & Gandy appear to assume that all of the copying was done by Christians from Pagan sources. However, some might have gone in the opposite direction. During the 3rd century CE, Mithraism and Christianity were the main competitors for the religious affiliation the citizens of Romans. Some Christian practices might have actually been picked up by the Mithraites, rather than vice-versa.
Many early Christians celebrated Jesus' birthday on JAN-6. Armenian Christians still do. In Alexandria, the birthday of their godman, Aion, was also celebrated on JAN-6.
Christians and most Pagans eventually celebrated the birthday of their godman on DEC-25.
According to an ancient Christian tradition, Christ died on MAR-23 and resurrected on MAR-25. These dates agree precisely with the death and resurrection of Attis.
Baptism was a principal ritual; it washed away a person's sins. In some rituals, Baptism was performed by sprinkling holy water on the believer; in others, the person was totally immersed.
The most important sacrament was a ritual meal of bread and wine which symbolize the godman's body and blood. His followers were criticized of engaging in cannibalism.
Early Christians initiated converts in March and April by baptism. Mithraism initiated their new members at this time as well.
Early Christians were naked when they were baptized. After immersion, they then put on white clothing and a crown. They carried a candle and walked in a procession to a basilica . Followers of Mithra were also baptized naked, put on white clothing and a crown, and walked in a procession to the temple. However, they carried torches.
At Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were recorded as speaking in tongues. At Trophonius and Delos, the Pagan priestesses appeared to speak in such a way that each person present heard her words in the observer's own language.
An inscription to Mithras reads: He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made on with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation. In John 6:53-54, Jesus is said to have repeated this theme: ...Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (KJV)
The Bible records that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One went to heaven and the other to hell. In the Mithras mysteries, a common image showed Mithras flanked by two torchbearers, one on either side. One held a torch pointed upwards, the other downwards. This symbolized ascent to heaven or descent to hell.
In Attis, a bull was slaughtered while on a perforated platform. The animal's blood flowed down over an initiate who stood in a pit under the platform. The believer was then considered to have been born again. Poor people could only afford a sheep, and so were literally washed in the blood of the lamb. This practice was interpreted symbolically by Christians.
There were many additional points of similarity between Mithraism and Christianity. 3 St. Augustine even declared that the priests of Mithraism worshiped the same God as he did:
Followers of both religions celebrated a ritual meal involving bread. It was called a missa in Latin or mass in English.
Both the Catholic church and Mithraism had a total of seven sacraments.
Epiphany, JAN-6, was originally the festival in which the followers of Mithra celebrated the visit of the Magi to their newborn godman. The Christian Church took it over in the 9th century.

Reasons for the Pagan-Christian similarities

Celsus was a Platonist and polemical writer against Christianity who lived in the late 2nd century CE According to Freke & Gandy, he complained that this recent religion [of Christianity} was only a pale reflection of Pagan belief. 1 According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Celsus pointed out that Christianity copied the concepts of others. Christian ...ideas concerning the origin of the universe, etc., are common to all peoples and to the wise men of antiquity.2
Various early church writers, such as Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons; circa 120 to ?) Justin Martyr (Christian apologist; 100 to 165), Tertullian (Christian theologian; circa 160 to 220 +) concluded that the Pagan/Christian similarities were a Satanic attempt at diabolical mimicry. Satan was said to have use plagiarism by anticipation. That is, the Devil replicated the life experiences of Jesus, centuries before his birth. The reason was to confuse the public into thinking that Jesus was merely a copy of previous godmen.
Other Christian writers have concluded that the Mysteries were a type of pre-echo of Jesus' life -- somewhat like premonitions or prophecies. 1
Freke & Gandy have concluded that the original, main Christian movement was Gnostic Christianity. They kept their inner mysteries secret, revealing them only to those who have been initiated into the faith. 1 Some early non_Gnostic, literalist Christians were unaware of the inner mysteries of Gnosticism. They came to accept the Gnostic outer mysteries and their myth of a godman savior as an actual description of the historical Jesus. The literalist Christians, being ignorant of the inner mysteries, did not realize that the godman story was only a legend about a mythical being. Decades later, literalist Christianity became the dominant movement. They oppressed and exterminated the Gnostics.
These points of similarity could have been coincidental. There are many cases in comparative religion where similar beliefs or practices are seen in two unrelated religions. The pyramid structures in Egypt are like those in Mexico. Yet most archeologists believe that there is no link between the countries; the shapes were chosen independently. Similarly, almost all religions share an Ethic of Reciprocity, like the Golden Rule.
A strong case can be made that wholesale copying of beliefs and rituals by various religions has occurred in the past. However, as noted above, some Christian beliefs and practices may have stolen by the followers of Mithra from their Christian rivals rather than vice versa.

Implications of the Pagan-Christian similarities

Conservative Christians accept the inerrancy of the Bible. The writings of the authors of the gospels are without error. The gospels describe the life of Jesus with precision. Thus ancient Pagan practices in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean are of no concern to the believer.
To some liberal Christians, the Pagan-Christian parallels are convincing proof that much of the magical components of the gospels are of Pagan origin: the virgin birth, bringing dead people back to life, the many miraculous healings, exorcisms, transiguration, resurrection, ascension, his anticipated return and judgment of humanity, etc. These stories were derived from Pagan material that had been circulating for centuries when Jesus was born. Except for the occasional coincidence, that material cannot refer to real events in Jesus' life. Many key Christian beliefs have to be questioned and perhaps abandoned.
One comforting factor may be a recognition that some of the basic teachings of Christianity and some of the traditionally believed events of Jesus' life may actually be over 4,500 years old, grounded in the pre-history of humanity. Another is that, when we strip away the miraculous and supernatural legends in the gospels which came from Pagan sources, we are left with the natural. What remains is a story of an itinerant Jewish teacher who taught through parables and by example. It is the core teachings of Jesus which emerge from the gospels -- undiluted by Pagan material.

References

1. Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'original Jesus' a Pagan god? Acacia Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
2. Celsus the Platonist, The Catholic Encyclopedia, at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03490a.htm
3. Mithra, Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's encyclopedia of myths and secrets, Harper & Row, (1996), Pages 663 to 665. Read reviews or order this book
4. Rev. Phil Greetham, 3: Where did our Magi come from? at: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/
5. William Harwood, Mythology's last gods: Yahweh and Jesus, Prometheus Books (1992), Page 257. Read reviews or order this book
6. Acharya S, The Christ conspiracy: the greatest story ever sold, Read reviews or order this book ...an enormous amount of startling evidence to demonstrate that Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ were created by members of various secret societies, mystery schools and religions in order to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion. In making such a fabrication, this multinational cabal drew upon a multitude of myths and rituals that already existed long before the Christian era, and reworked them for centuries into the story and religion passed down today.


Copyright 1999 & 2000
Originally written: 1999-NOV-14
Latest update: 2000-JUL-31
Author: B.A. Robinson





 

 



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