The Jesus Myth Theory: Investigating Claims of Copying

Is Jesus a Myth?

That’s a question more people are asking, especially after Zeitgeist, the Movie got popular. In this post, my friend, Mary Jo Sharp, shows you 3 simple steps you can use to figure out if Jesus’ story was actually ripped off from other religions. Mary Jo blogs at http://confidentchristianity.blogspot.com

Guest Post by Mary Jo Sharp

An increasing trend in popular and academic circles is to propose that the story of Jesus is a mythical one, copied from the stories of pagan mystery gods such as Osiris and Mithras.  Not only can the claim be found on numerous internet sites and in several popular-level books, but it is also propagated by celebrities such as political satirist, Bill Maher.[1]

On a September 2008 episode of the widely-viewed talk show, The View, Maher stated that Jesus is like the Egyptian god, Horus.  Do these claims have much merit?  In the brief space to follow, I will focus on a method for investigating the stories of the other gods and the story of Jesus.

Let me teach you a simple method for investigation.

#1. Read the stories for yourself

When faced with the question of whether or not the story of Jesus is a copy of another god’s story, you should actually read the stories.  Get a hold of a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead or the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and go through the stories for yourself (local college library, some city libraries, online texts).  It’s always a good idea to go to the primary source material so you know the subject being discussed from the source of the discussion.

#2. Take the parallels head-to-head

After reading the stories, investigate the suggested parallel material from those stories.  If someone claims that Mithras died and rose from the dead just like Jesus, see if you can find any resurrection story that mirrors the one of Jesus.  In Mithras’ case, you cannot find a resurrection at all.  Mithras never dies, so he certainly cannot resurrect from the dead.  Osiris is raised to be King of the Dead.  So his raising results in afterlife amongst the dead.

Vague similarities are not going to accomplish much for those who are seeking to be intellectually honest.  Saying that Mithras was “born of a virgin” and Jesus was “born of a virgin” is either too vague or is so strained as to be construed as dishonest reportage.[2]

Mithras sprung forth from a rock (or cave) near a river bank.  He was holding a torch to illumine the underworld from which he came and a dagger to subdue all the creatures of the earth.  Jesus was born as a human baby by a female human virgin.  Osiris was the product of an adulterous affair between two gods.  He fell in love with his sister and had sexual intercourse with her in the womb of his mother goddess.  The only thing similar in these birth stories is the vague similarity of birth itself.

#3. Set everything in context

Some contemporary Christ-myth theorists will use terms like “resurrection” with stories of any god that died and took an afterlife form.  For example, Peter Joseph used “resurrection” to fit his purpose of a side-by-side comparison of several gods in Zeitgeist, the Movie.  Yet, did the people who followed the various gods understand their god to be “resurrected” in the sense of Jesus’ resurrection?

No.  Jesus’ resurrection was an unexpected twist[3] in the Jewish view of the Messiah, as well as in the Jewish view of resurrection.  It was also unexpected according to the pagan understanding of the afterlife; for Jesus was raised to a new, physical body.  The pagans expected a spiritual union with their gods in the afterlife or a freeing of the spirit from bodily imprisonment.  This twist is important, because it has everything to do with the Christian understanding of God’s good creation, his forgiveness, and his gift of salvation.

Jesus’ resurrection stands unparalleled in history when attempting to find stories in which God purposed to pay the penalty for all of mankind’s sin so that man can have a new, changed life.

Jesus died as he expected and predicted, and for the purpose he planned.  Even if a person does not believe in God, he can see this difference between Jesus’ story and the story of the other gods.  Jesus’ resurrection is also the model for the resurrection of all of mankind.  He is “the firstborn of the resurrection.”  The followers of Jesus in the first century up to today have a radically different view of the afterlife and resurrection from their fellow mankind.  This is not something that can easily be overlooked in order to make an accusation of copying from other gods’ stories.  And we have just begun to dig into the differences!

Conclusion

Just like you and I do not want to have our ideas and words ripped out of context and used for someone else’s purposes, we should not take the stories of the ancient gods and of the major world religions out of context to use for our own purposes.  Nor should we be ignoring aspects of the stories that show their vast differences.

The deeper we look into the stories of the gods, the greater the difference we find between them and the story of Jesus.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources

Primary Sources: Read them for yourself

Note: Purchasing resources via the links on this page will help support Mikel’s accessible apologetics ministry.

[1] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?  (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999).  Payam Nabarz, The Mysteries of Mithras: The Pagan Belief That Shaped the Christian World (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2005).  The Historical Jesus: Five Views, eds. James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009).
[2] I don’t wish to assume motives, but this contravention of fact is so egregious on behalf of the argument’s proponents, such as “Zeitgeist, the Movie,” that it causes me to wonder about the author’s intent.
[3] I say “unexpected” in accordance with tradition, not prophecy.
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16 Responses to “The Jesus Myth Theory: Investigating Claims of Copying”

  1. Lisa August 4, 2011 6:13 AM
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    Excellent guest post from Mary Jo! I love the emphasis on finding these ‘ancient texts’ for yourself and doing your own research rather than taking the word of ‘Hollywood so-and-so’! I’ll be passing this one along myself!!

  2. Apologetics Guy August 4, 2011 9:13 AM
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    Totally. People are often taken in by misinformation presented through the popular media. Probably since it takes a little bit of work to actually check stuff out for yourself rather than being spoon-fed conclusions by “Hollywood so-and-so.” I love how you put that. Thanks for the comment, Lisa!

    • Omar January 6, 2013 3:56 PM
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      Historically speaking, a man named Jesus rlelay existed some 2000 yrs ago. Now it’s up for you to believe or not. Now, if He’s life is similar to Krishna’s life, that’s because Krishna’s alter ego lord Vishnu is the counterpart of Jesus Christ in Hinduism. God the Father is Shiva, God the Son is Vishnu, and God the Holy Spirit is Brahma. The Holy Trinity exists in different religions, but in different names. So in other words, lord Jesus Christ is also lord Krishna and lord Vishnu! That is why they have nearly the same life.

      • Austin Gravley January 7, 2013 5:41 PM
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        Omar, can you explain how they have “nearly the same life?” I personally know many Hindus who would say that is not the case.

  3. Broadwood September 21, 2011 3:38 AM
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    As C S Lewis, who was an expert in pagan myth, points out, if a Holy God is indeed setting out to reveal himself to all mankind, you would naturally expect to find these stories in every culture, which hint at the truth and prepare people for the full Gospel, and many missionaries encountering remote peoples have reported this kind of thing. So this kind or argument from atheists is a neat home goal!

  4. Apologetics Guy September 21, 2011 7:38 AM
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    Broadwood – Good observation. As a former missionary, I know what you mean. Ever read “The Peace Child?” Great example of what you’re talking about. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Reeves September 22, 2011 11:06 AM
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    Wow! I never knew this blog existed! Just browsed your articles…Excellent work man! I’m writing an article about the so-called copy-cat Jesus and I find your site an excellent source. God bless

  6. Apologetics Guy September 22, 2011 12:06 PM
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    Thanks for the comment, Reeves. Let me know where I can check out your article when it’s done. Mary Jo’s done some excellent work in this area. You should check out her other articles, too. I appreciate your kind words about my blog. Glad you found it!

    • Pokwang January 6, 2013 4:13 AM
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      Christmas is a collection of pagan fvslieats that the church tried to hijack and failed!! They therefore celebrate a pagan festival and surely if Jesus existed he would be repelled by that!!But what of Jesus himself?There is not one single mention of Jesus in the entire Roman record that is right not one!!! At the same time as he was supposed to have been around there were a number of Jews claiming to be the messiah all of whom are well recorded!!He was supposed to have been a huge problem to the Romans and produced wonderful miracles but still not one contemporary record?Even the bible mentions of him like all other references were not written until many years after his supposed death!!At best he was an amalgam of those others!!

  7. Jason October 6, 2011 3:56 PM
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    I agree! I am actually an atheist myself and can say that people need to read into they are actually believing. I really couldn’t agree more. It’s a headache to hear about bogus information like this. There are a lot of great things in the bible, even places and events that I’m sure is true. The problem I am always faced with is all the evil that is in the bible. Slavery, murder, etc that seems to go unnoticed, especially in the old testatment. In fact Jesus says himself Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”.

    My problem is all the evil that is in the old testament and in the bible overall. Why would someone want to believe just evil. I agree the 10 commandments are things we should not do to live together in a community but I know this not because of the bible, I know this because to live in a community we can’t have people killing each other and robbing each other etc. If we believe in the commandments then you should also hold true the punishments for disobeying them. I also don’t believe rape is good either unlike Judges 21:10-24 NLT or Numbers 31:7-18 NLT or Deuteronomy 20:10-14.

    The one that gets me the most is this: Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT. ( If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.)

    What kind of lunatic would make a rape victim marry her attacker? Answer: God.

    Some other verses just to name a few showing slavery and how we should beat our slaves.

    Exodus 21:20-21 NAB
    Ephesians 6:5 NLT
    Luke 12:47-48 NLT
    Exodus 21:2-6 NLT (Crazy huh?!)

    Want some more great info go to godisimaginary.com

  8. Apologetics Guy November 21, 2011 11:54 AM
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    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for your comment. Glad we agree on a number of things, including the fact that rape is evil. For example, the ending of Judges is a clear example of society gone mad–when people disregard God’s commands and live however they want to, sick stuff happens. That’s really the point.

    As an atheist, how do you know if something is evil or not? Do you believe that morality is simply a subjective product of evolution or something societies made up?

    One more thing: How does your assessment of God’s moral character lead you to believe that God does not exist? I don’t see how atheism follows there. Can you explain that to me?

    Thanks again for the comment, Jason.

    -Mikel

  9. change December 7, 2011 8:06 PM
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    Where do you come up with this?

    “Osiris was the product of an adulterous affair between two gods.”

    Osiris’s parents were Nut and Geb…

    Also, Osiris did not have sex in the womb with his sister. Where do you guys come up with this stuff?

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