Q: Is Jesus just another resurrection myth from antiquity like Horus, Attis and Mithra?

Reasonable Answers for Everyday Thinkersbigq

What we need to consider while discussing this topic is that there are specific claims that are being made, that can be true or false based on historical evidence. Lets look at this question a little closer to see where the conflict lies and make some reasonable observations.

Zeitgeist

There are few challenges to Jesus’ uniqueness, as persuasive as Peter Josephs, Zeitgeist. Jesus’ uniqueness is a focal point for the first, of three, conspiracy type documentary films. In the film Zeitgeist there are many jabs at Christianity but for the sake of this blog I will focus my attention to comparing the lives of Horus, Attis, Mithra and so forth with that of Jesus.

horus-attis-mithra-krishna-dionysus

This image illustrates the point Zeitgeist was making, that Jesus was merely the contemporary version of a long line of fantastic myths.

What are the Problems with this view

1. Mythicism

“Christ Myth” theory is the view that Zeitgeist adopts regarding Jesus. The mythicist view came onto the scene, during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, by two written works by Constantin François Volney and Charles Dupuis. Their books rejected the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is a video from an agnostic historian, Bart Ehrman, trying to show, an atheist radio host, that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure.  This dialogue is comical to listen to, but, one has to consider that there simply is no basis for believing that Jesus of Nazareth was not a real person. As Mike Licona (Ph.D. Historian, MA Religious Studies) states:

“There are as many non-Christian sources who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life as there are who mention the Roman emperor contemporary with Jesus’ ministry within 150 years of his life. Those who propose that Jesus never existed must reasonably account for these sources. While those who try to believe their arguments are reasonable, they have not convinced many. In fact, I am not aware of a single widely respected scholar in the world who holds the position that Jesus never existed.”

 In her book, The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, D.M. Murdock sustains her mythicist view by drawing parallels between ancient gods and Jesus.

Sample of Ancient Gods Similar to Jesus of Nazareth

Horus (Egypt – 3,000 BC)
• Born on December 25th
• Born of a virgin
• Birth announced by star in the east
• Adored by three kings
• Had twelve disciples
• Performed miracles

Attis (Phrygia – 1,200 BC)
• Born on December 25th
• Born of virgin Nana
• Crucified and resurrected after three days

Mithra (Persia – 1,200 BC)
• Born on December 25th
• Born of a virgin
• Had twelve disciples
• Performed miracles
• Died and was resurrected in three days
2. Distorted Word Context
Murdock then goes on, in the book, to misuse terms like “messiah,” crucified,” and “resurrected” as a desperate attempt to persuade the audience of the said similarities. This proves a fatal error.

“Messiah”

The term “messiah” for instance only has significant meaning in a Jewish monotheistic culture. Jews were looking for the “anointed one” which was not a concept of any other ancient religion apart from the Abrahamic religions.

 “Crucified”
This is where the claims become blatantly false according to Mark Foreman, Ph.D.
“Krishna was shot in the foot with an arrow and died from his wounds. Attis castrated himself in a jealous rage, fled into the wilderness, and died… Horus… was merely stung by a scorpion… Adonis was gored by a wild boar.”
Surprisingly, Murdock knows how these ancient gods—Horus and Osiris, for example—died. “However,” she goes on to defend her assertion,
“Egyptian deities, including Horus, were depicted in cruciform with arms extended or outstretched, as in various images that are comparable to crucifixes.”
Murdock is literally saying that outstretched arms and comparable to crucifixion. Following her reasoning, a picture of a child walking on a balance beam with arms outstretched would be comparable to a depiction of cruciform, comparable to crucifixes!
 “Resurrected”
This term is used in the way that Christians understand it today which is bizarre because even the Hebrews were not expecting the messiah to be resurrected. The use of this word implies that it was a common belief in ancient religions but fails to justify this claim. All comparable claims to the resurrection of Christianity post-date the actual rise of Christianity; therefore, these claims were undeniably false.
I think this shows that one can “mythicize” almost anything by overlooking important differences. Consider this quote from Mike Licona that illustrates this point well.
Remember that plane that took off early in the morning from Massachusetts? It flew into a skyscraper in New York City just after 9 in the morning between the 78th and the 80th floor. This incident killed everyone onboard and many others in the building. If you guessed 9/11, think again. I am speaking of the B-25 that flew into the Empire State Building on July 20, 1945.
Though both events have some similarities, they are entirely different incidents altogether. We could look at many more examples, but by now we can see that Christ Myth theory is unsustainable.
Jesus as a Historical Figure
 This is where the skeptic might say that to use the bible to prove the bible is circular reasoning. I can understand the logic in the claim but realize that from a historical point of view that the earliest eyewitness testimonies are found in the gospel accounts. For argument sake lets just look and what historical scholars are in agreement about and build a case from there. Note: that no one claims to know the birthday of Jesus, this is purely speculation on the part of film makers.
  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. He was buried.
  3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
  4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
  6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
  7. The resurrection was the central message.
  8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
  9. The Church was born and grew.
  10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
  11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
  12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

Gary Habermas, Ph.D. at UCSB lectures on the historical timeline for Jesus existence given these 12 facts.

Extra-Biblical sources for the existence of Jesus

Notice when you read theses accounts that though the perspective might be hostile, the admissions are telling. Listed below are only some of the resources historians use to justify the existence of Jesus.

Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD), “the greatest historian” of ancient Rome:

Tacitus“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD):

Gaius_Suetonius_Tranqullus“Because the Jews of Rome caused continous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from the city.”

“After the great fire at Rome [during Nero’s reign] … Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”

Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), court historian for Emperor Vespasian:

josephus“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Arabic translation)

Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor around 112 AD:

Pliny_Two“[The Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.” Pliny added that Christianity attracted persons of all societal ranks, all ages, both sexes, and from both the city and the country. Late in his letter to Emperor Trajan, Pliny refers to the teachings of Jesus and his followers as excessive and contagious superstition.

Conclusion

We have looked at some of the claims from Zeitgeist in two main areas. We have seen how the “Christ Myth” theory arose as a direct attack on Christianity with little historical support, and how words that meant something in their original context were implanted into a context where they didn’t belong. We also took a close look at the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure that actually existed, the 12 facts widely accepted by scholars today and the extra-biblical evidence for the historicity of Jesus. If you or someone you know has been persuaded by the rhetoric of Zeitgeist, then would you consider the evidence presented? Emotions shouldn’t shape our beliefs, truth should.


Works Cited

Apologetics Canada , Steve Kim, The Mythicist Debacle: A Case for the Historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: HarperOne, 2012),14-17.

Mary Jo Sharp, “Does the Story of Jesus Mimic Pagan Mystery Stories?” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (Nashville: B&H, 2012), Kindle, location 3255-3260

“Myth #2: Pagan Parallels in the Mystery Religions” from Credo House Ministries found on http://vimeo.com/39314696

Mark W. Foreman, “Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie,” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (Nashville: B&H, 2012), Kindle, location 3528-3531.

D.M. Murdock, Christ in Egypt: The Jesus-Horus Connection (Seattle: Stellar House, 2009), 335, quoted in Foreman, “Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie.”

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6 thoughts on “Q: Is Jesus just another resurrection myth from antiquity like Horus, Attis and Mithra?

      1. According to some they are one and the same character.
        But you are arguing merely for the historicity of the character, Jesus of Nazareth, (Yeshua- as per Ehrman) not the divine character, for which there is no evidence of course and is based solely on faith, yes?

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  1. Not sure I understand, are you saying we accept the 12 facts presented by Dr. Habermas solely on faith or the connection between the historical Jesus and the biblical Jesus? Thanks

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    1. ‘We’ – meaning Christians, yes?

      Ye, there is historical evidence of Christianity and Christians.

      There is no non-biblical evidence of the historicity of the disciples or Saul of Tarsus. None.

      There is no contemporary or historical evidence to support a divine Jesus of Nazareth.

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  2. Hi Ark.

    I fear that you are mistaken about Saul. As a roman citizen he likely had a Greek name Paul. My friends call me Peet when my real name is Petrus, no contradiction there. Besides we DO have extra biblical evidence for Paul. Consider his death.

    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle#His_final_days_spent_in_Rome)
    >>>”Death[edit]
    The Bible does not say how or when Paul died. There is an early tradition by Ignatius, probably around 110 AD, that Paul was martyred.[94] Dionysius of Corinth in a letter to the Romans (166–174 AD), stated that Paul and Peter were martyred in Italy.[95] Eusebius also cites the Dionysius passage.[96]

    Traditional manner of execution[edit]
    Christian tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s at Tre Fontane Abbey (English: Three Fountains Abbey).[97]

    Tertullian in his Prescription Against Heretics (200 AD) writes that Paul had a similar death to that of John the Baptist, who was beheaded.[98]
    Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History (320 AD) testifies that Paul was beheaded in Rome and Peter crucified. He wrote that the tombs of these two apostles, with their inscriptions, were extant in his time; and quotes as his authority a holy man of the name of Caius.[99]
    Lactantius wrote that Nero “crucified Peter, and slew Paul.” (318 AD)[100]
    Jerome in his De Viris Illustribus (Jerome)|De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men) (392 AD) states that Paul was beheaded at Rome.[101]
    John Chrysostom (c. 349–407) wrote that Nero knew Paul personally and had him killed.[102]
    Sulpicius Severus says Nero killed Peter and Paul. (403 AD)[103]<<<<"

    Also I'd like to point out that in Jesus lifetime we don't have Contemporary evidence for ANYONE! and we have the same amount of sources for Julius Caesar as for Jesus.

    Lastly I would just like to comment on the separation between the biblical account and the historical account. It is absurd to claim that the NT documents and letters are not historical evidence, to separate the two or worse to eliminate one as a historical source is extremely telling.

    Now do you accept the 12 points Dr Habermas makes or do you reject them?
    Thanks, Peet

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