Monday, 4 October 2010

Copy Cat Christianity or Piggy-back Paganism?

It's one of the orthodox doctrines of our gullible, evidence-averse, anti-Christian society - Christianity copied pagan myths. 

On the surface of it the lines trotted out seem strikingly similar - consider the supposed credentials of Mithras: we are told he was born of a virgin, was a great travelling teacher, had 12 disciples, promised his followers immortality, sacrificed himself for the world, was buried in a tomb and rose again three days later, instituted a Eucharist, was considered redeemer, messiah, and the way, the truth and the life.  Does that sound like anyone you know?  Other similarities are presented to us from pagan deities like Tammuz, Osiris and Dionysus.

When we consider objections we have to ask, what if it's true?  Even if it were true that these things were ascribed to Mithras prior to Christ, what would that mean?  Would it mean that all the historical evidence we have for Christ was invalid?  Hardly.  As you consider some of the features noted above - promising immortality, being a redeemer, a great teacher etc. these are things we would expect pagans would ascribe to their gods, so those things are fairly unremarkable.  As regards the things that are strikingly similar to Christ, let me say another thing before we examine whether they are actually true.  Even if it were true that these things were ascribed to Mithras, we need to remember that many of the details about the Messiah were prophesied in the Old Testament, and why would the devil not take those details and seek to incorporate them into pagan worship in order to discredit Christianity?  To me that seems like a reasonable explanation, and if that were the case then it comes down to looking at the evidence and saying, we have no reason to disbelieve the Gospel accounts and loads of reasons to believe them. 

Remember that the early Christians were almost all Jews, do you really think that the way to win monotheistic Jews, in a culture that was fiercely hostile and totally dismissive of paganism, was to copy pagan myths?!?  Jews would never have left their majestic God-given forms of worship and observances for paganism.  Ever since their return from Babylon, whatever sins the Jewish nation might have been guilty of, idolatry wasn't one of them.  The reason so many Jews believed Jesus was the Messiah was because He actually fulfilled the Messianic prophecies and left an empty tomb and transformed disciples behind Him - they couldn't refute the evidence in front of them.

But let's just see if the "similarities" are as strong as we are told they are.  (Note, the information below is based largely on information gleaned from the following sources: The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel; and;;

Tammuz (Mesopotamia) / Dumuzi (Sumerian) / Adonis (Phoenicia): The cult of Tammuz dates back to about 3000BC. The story that has been preserved is not that he was resurrected to earthly life, but to the underworld. As far as Adonis is concerned, the earliest stories have no death or resurrection. The “resurrection” of Adonis isn’t recorded until after 150AD. “P Lambrechts has shown that there is no trace of a resurrection in the early texts or pictorial representations of Adonis; the four texts that speak of his resurrection are quite late, dating from the second to the fourth centuries AD.” The story of his death has no similarity to Christ’s. Adonis was mortally wounded by a wild boar – he was given to Persephone, goddess of death for part of a year, and to Aphrodite, goddess of love for the other part of the year. Inanna (Ishtar) didn’t rescue Tammuz from the underworld, but sent him there as her substitute. Is there any resemblance there to the Creator God becoming incarnate and being literally crucified and bearing the judgment of God against sin, then being bodily raised from the dead and out of the tomb in which He lay?  You see the big thing that separated Judaism from paganism was the belief in a literal, bodily glorious resurrection - this is something totally foreign to paganism, which considered the goal was release from the body.  None of the pagan "resurrection" stories contain anything like a bodily resurrection as found in Hebrew belief or Christian teaching.

Osiris (Egypt) – god of the underworld. Isis and Osiris were two of the children of the earth god, Seb, and the sky goddess, Nut (also wife of the sun god, Ra). Osiris married his sister, Isis, and reigned as king on earth, and apparently stopped them from cannibalism and savagery, teaching them to eat corn and to worship the gods. His brother, Set (Greek – Typhon), duped him into laying himself down in a coffer. His brother and his co-conspirators nailed the lid shut and soldered it with lead and threw it in the Nile. Isis finds it in the column of a palace that had been built using the tree into which the coffer had floated (the tree having sprung up around it). She takes it back then leaves it to visither son, Horus, but when she leaves the coffer Typhon finds it, recognises it and tears Osiris into 14 pieces. Isis returns and buries each piece where she finds it. Ra responds to Isis’ grief and sends Anabis from heaven with Isis, Nephthys, Thoth and Horus, to piece Osiris together, and Osiris becomes “Lord of the dead”. He does not return to the living or to the earth, and is always portrayed in mummified form, reigning in the underworld. Do we really think the story of the Gospel could be concocted from this? In addition, again there is no evidence that pre-dates the second century AD for these supposed “resurrections”.

Mithras (Rome) / Mitra (Hindu) / Mithra (Iranian / Persian) – preserver of law and order, and god of war. He was born of a rock (that is supposed to be a parallel with the virgin birth!), clenching a dagger in one hand and a torch in the other. Mithra killed an ox with his dagger; germs of life spilled out to the world (this is supposed to be the parallel with Christ sacrificing Himself for the world!)  Zoroaster (6th or 7th Century BC) made Ahura Mazdah (creator of life) alone worthy of absolute worship (Angra Mainyu was the former of evil demons). Mithra then became part of a threesome with Sraosa and Rasnu (this is in no way like the Trinity for the following reasons: the Trinity is not subject to some over-arching, overruling Deity, and the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Old Testament, in writings older than the time of Zoroaster, e.g. Genesis 1 v 26; Isaiah 9 v 6; 48 v 12-16; 61). Worship of Mithra in Rome can be dated from the second century AD. No public shrines or holidays where ever associated with the worship of Mithra – it was not a state religion. The slaughtering of a bull over a person (supposedly where Christians got the idea of baptism!) is first attested in the time of Antonius Pius (160 AD). It only became a personal consecration at the beginning of the third century. The idea of rebirth only emerges in isolated instances toward the end of the fourth century AD. It appears far more likely that these pagans were influenced by the spread of the message of the Gospel rather than Christianity being influenced by paganism.

The historicity of the life of Christ shows that no pagan cults could influence the Gospel – the message of His death, burial and resurrection is based on historical facts.  It's far more likely that as the message of the Gospel spread and people turned from dead paganism to the living Christ, that the pagan cults began adapting their message to try to piggy-back on Christianity and say they could offer what the Gospel offered.

The reality is, they can't.  There are no alternatives to Christ - He is the only Saviour for the helpless, the only Substitute for the guilty, the only hope for the hopeless.  Accept no imitations - Christ alone can save.

For further reading, check Bruce Metzger (Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish and Christian); Ronald Nash (Was the Bible Influenced by Pagan Religions?)