Most of the alleged similarities between the Jesus story and pagan dying-rising gods are blown out of proportion for skeptical polemic. The far more sophisticated arguments are made by people such as Kirsop Lake (the 19th century Christian liberal theologian). They consist of little details, minute similarities in wording and phraseology, such as has been dealt with above. But many Internet skeptics are not subtle, they go for the big victory and the cheap analysis. It has been claimed by many of these skeptics (Farrell Till for one) that a host of gods from pagan myth were sons of god, born of virgins, and sacrificed as atonement and rose from the dead. In addition there are some small claims in the telling of the story, such as Christ being laid in a manger, which was supposedly done with Dionysus as well. These claims are, in the main, quite false. Let's examine them.
Moreover any sort of identities for these figures would be impossible to track, because they are always changing identities; the family members change from story to story, parents and children and their relationships change form store to store, and the gods merge; Osiris is linked to Dionysus and so on (Marvin M. Meyer, (editor) The Ancient Mysteries : A Source Book , San Francisco: Harper, 1987, pp.170-171).
Let's examine specific figures from real mythology books.
1) No Virginal Conception
"In this story Zeus had loved Alkamene and Begotten Herakles..." (Seltman, The Twelve Olympians, New York: Thomas Y. Corwell Company, 1960.p 176).
2) No crucifixion or resurrection
Herakles was poisoned and welcomed into Olympus post morte with no resurrection of any kind (Seltman). He was poisoned by a robe which had been bathed in centaur blood. He did not resurrect but was burned on a pyre and welcomed into Olympus as a god: "then the flames rushed up and Hercules was seen no more on earth. He was taken to heaven where he was reconciled to Hera.." (Edith Hamilton, Mentor edition, original copywriter 1940 Mythology, 172). See also World Book Encyclopedia, "Hercules" 1964)
There is no documentation in professional academic books on Mythology for Hercules being called light bearer, as some mythers have claimed, he was a son of a god, but never called "The Son of God." There was a vast array of sons of different gods in Greek Mythology (especially with Zeus). He made no decent into hell, redeemed no one's soul, although he may have gone into the underworld in certain myths, he preached no gospel there. He founded no communion of saints and had no communal meal.
The Mythic Mysteries are very complex, and the only real similarities to Jesus are minute ones.. Most of these alleged similarities are suspect or unimportant. It is often claimed by skeptics on the Internet that "there is so much similarity" but I find very little. Mithra comes from Persia and is part of Zoroastrian myth, but this cult was transplanted to Rome near the end of the pre-Christian era. Actually the figure of Mithra is very ancient. He began in the Hindu pantheon and is mentioned in the Vedas. He latter spread to Persia where he took the guise of a sheep protecting deity. But his guise as a shepherd was rather minor. He is associated with the Sun as well. Yet most of our evidence about his cult (which apparently didn't exist in the Hindu or Persian forms) comes from Post-Pauline times. Mythic rituals were meant to bring about the salvation and transformation of initiates. In that sense it could be seen as similar to Christianity, but it was a religion and all religions aim at ultimate transformation. He's a total mythical figure he meets the sun who kneels before him, he slays a cosmic bull, nothing is real or human, no sayings, no teachings.
1) no Virginal Conception
Mithra was born of a rock, so unless the rock was a virgin rock, no virginal conception for him. (Marvin W. Meyer, ed. The Ancient Mysteries :a Sourcebook. San Francisco: Harper, 1987,, p. 201). David Ulansey, who is perhaps the greatest Mithric scholar of the age, agrees that Mithras was born out of a rock, not of a virgin woman. He was also born as a full grown adult. (Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World. New York: Oxford U. Press, 1989.)
2) No crucifixion or resurrection.
There no story of Mithras death and no references to resurrection. The only similarity about him in this relation is that his shedding of the Bull's blood is said by H.G. Wells (Out Line of World History ) to be the prototype for Jesus sacrifice on the cross. But in reality the only similarity here is blood, and it wasn't even his own. It may even be borrowing form Christianity that made the shedding of blood important in the religion. Gordon says directly, that there is "no death of Mithras" -- (Gordon, Richard. Image and Value in the Greco-Roman World. Aldershot: Variorum, 1996.(p96)
3) No Savior, no baptism, no Christmas
Moreover, one of the major sources comes from the second century AD and is found in inscriptions on a temple, "and you saved us after having shed the eternal blood." This sounds Christian, but being second century after Christ it could well be borrowed from Christianity (Meyer, p 206). (This source, Meyer, is used by Kane as well, but it says nothing to back up his claims, and as will be seen latter, Meyer disparages the notion of conscious borrowing] (More about this ceremony on Page II)
"Mithra was the Persian god whose worship became popular among Roman soldiers (his cult was restricted to men) and was to prove a rival to Christianity in the late Roman Empire. Early Zoroastrian texts, such as the Mithra Yasht, cannot serve as the basis of a mystery of Mithra inasmuch as they present a god who watches over cattle and the sanctity of contracts. Later Mithraic evidence in the west is primarily iconographic; there are no long coherent texts". (Edwin Yamauchi, "Easter: "Myth, Hallucination, or History," Leadership University)
4) Most of our sources Post Date Christianity.
(a) Almost no Textual evidence exists for Mithraism
Most of the texts that do exist are from outsiders who were speculating about the cult. We have no information form inside the cult.
Cosmic Mysteries of Mythras (website--visted July 1, 2006)
David Ulansey (the Major scholar of Mithraism in world)Owing to the cult's secrecy, we possess almost no literary evidence about the beliefs of Mithraism. The few texts that do refer to the cult come not from Mithraic devotees themselves, but rather from outsiders such as early Church fathers, who mentioned Mithraism in order to attack it, and Platonic philosophers, who attempted to find support in Mithraic symbolism for their own philosophical ideas."At present our knowledge of both general and local cult practice in respect of rites of passage, ceremonial feats and even underlying ideology is based more on conjecture than fact." (Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester U. Press, 1975. ,437)
And Cumont himself observed, in the 50s
"The sacred books which contain the prayers recited or chanted during the [Mithraic] survives, the ritual on the initiates, and the ceremonials of the feasts, have vanished and left scarce a trace behind...[we] know the esoteric disciplines of the Mysteries only from a few indiscretions." (Cumont, Franz. The Mysteries of Mithra. New York: Dover, 1950.152)
(b) Roman Cult began after Jesus lifeOur earliest evidence for the Mithraic mysteries places their appearance in the middle of the first century B.C.: the historian Plutarch says that in 67 B.C. a large band of pirates based in Cilicia (a province on the southeastern coast of Asia Minor) were practicing "secret rites" of Mithras. The earliest physical remains of the cult date from around the end of the first century A.D., and Mithraism reached its height of popularity in the third century. (Ulansey, David. Cosmoic Mysteries of Mithras (website) (c) No Continuity between Ancient Persian past and Roman Cult
Throughout most of the twentieth century Franz Cumont so influenced scholarship that the entire discipline followed in the wake of his assumption that the Roman cult was spread by the Persian cult. In the early 70's David Ulansey did for Mithric scholarship what Noan Chomsky did for linguistics, he totally redefined the coordinates by which the discipline moved. Ulansey showed that the Roman cult was not the continuance of the Persian cult, that there was no real evidence of a Persian cult. He showed that the killing of the great comic bull which latter became the major event in Mithraism, and the parallel from which Jesus Mythers get the shedding of blood and sacrifice, was not known in the Persian era. This was be like showing that the story of the Cross was not known to Christians in the first century. The major likeness to Christianity and the central point of the cult of Mithraism was not known in the time of Christ, in the time Paul, or for at least two centuries after:"There were, however, a number of serious problems with Cumont's assumption that the Mithraic mysteries derived from ancient Iranian religion. Most significant among these is that there is no parallel in ancient Iran to the iconography which is the primary fact of the Roman Mithraic cult. For example, as already mentioned, by far the most important icon in the Roman cult was the tauroctony. This scene shows Mithras in the act of killing a bull, accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven, and a scorpion; the scene is depicted as taking place inside a cave like the mithraeum itself. This icon was located in the most important place in every mithraeum, and therefore must have been an expression of the central myth of the Roman cult. Thus, if the god Mithras of the Roman religion was actually the Iranian god Mithra, we should expect to find in Iranian mythology a story in which Mithra kills a bull. However, the fact is that no such Iranian myth exists: in no known Iranian text does Mithra have anything to do with killing a bull." (David Ulansey Mithras Mysteries).
(5) Mithraism Emerged in the west only after Jesus' day.
Mithraism could not have become an influence upon the origins of the first century, for the simple reason that Mithraism did not emerge from its pastoral setting in rural Persia until after the close of the New Testament canon. (Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra (Chicago: Open Court, 1903), 87ff.)
(6) We Don't know what any of it means.
"No one can be sure that the meaning of the meals and the ablutions are the same between Christianity and Mithraism. Just because the two had them is no indication that they come to the same thing. These are entirely superficial and circumstantial arguments." (Nash, Christian Research Journal winter 94, p.8)
(7) Mithraism was influenced by Christianity
a) Roman Soldiers Spread the cult.
Roman soldiers probably encountered Mithraism first as part of Zoroastrians when they while on duty in Persia. The Cult spread through the Roman legion, was most popular in the West, and ha little chance to spread through or influence upon Palestine. It's presence in Palestine was mainly confined to the Romans who were there to oppress the Jews. Kane tries to imply that these mystery cults were all indigenous to the Palestinian area, that they grew up alongside Judaism, and that the adherents to these religions all traded ideas as they happily ate together and practiced good neighborship.b) Mithric Roman Soldiers Influenced by Christians in Palestine
But Mithraism was confined to the Roman Legion primarily, those who were stationed in Palestine to subdue the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-70. In fact strong evidence indicates that in this way Christianity influenced Mithraism. First, because Romans stationed in the West were sent on short tours of duty to fight the Parthians in the East, and to put down the Jewish revolt. This is where they would have encountered a Christianity whose major texts were already written, and whose major story (that of the life of Christ) was already formed.
"There is no real evidence for a Persian Cult of Mithras. The cultic and mystery aspect did not exist until after the Roman period, second century to fourth. This means that any similarities to Christianity probably come from Christianity as the Soldiers learned of it during their tours in Palestine. The Great historian of religions, Franz Cumont was able to prove that the earliest datable evidence for the cult came from the Military Garrison at Carnuntum, on the Danube River (modern Hungary). The largest Cache of Mithric artifacts comes form the area between the Danube and Ostia in Italy." (Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra (Chicago: Open Court, 1903), 87ff.)
3) Mithraism was not Christianity's Major Rival
The Ecole Initiative:
Mithraism had a wide following from the middle of the second century to the late fourth century CE, but the common belief that Mithraism was the prime competitor of Christianity, promulgated by Ernst Renan (Renan 1882 579), is blatantly false. Mithraism was at a serious disadvantage right from the start because it allowed only male initiates. What is more, Mithraism was, as mentioned above, only one of several cults imported from the eastern empire that enjoyed a large membership in Rome and elsewhere. The major competitor to Christianity was thus not Mithraism but the combined group of imported cults and official Roman cults subsumed under the rubric "paganism." Finally, part of Renan's claim rested on an equally common, but almost equally mistaken, belief that Mithraism was officially accepted because it had Roman emperors among its adherents (Nero, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and the Tetrarchs are most commonly cited). Close examination of the evidence for the participation of emperors reveals that some comes from literary sources of dubious quality and that the rest is rather circumstantial. The cult of Magna Mater, the first imported cult to arrive in Rome (204 BCE) was the only one ever officially recognized as a Roman cult. The others, including Mithraism, were never officially accepted, and some, particularly the Egyptian cult of Isis, were periodically outlawed and their adherents persecuted.
1) Dionysus was not born of a virgin.
The Greek god Dionysus is said to be the god of wine, actually he began as a fertility god in Phrygia and in Macedonia, Thrace, and other outlying regions. The origin of the cult is probably in Asia. (Charles Seltman, The Twelve Olympians, New York: Thomas Y. Corwell Company, 1960.)
"In the myths about Dionysus the most important is the tale of his birth. His mother was Semele...in fact she was an earth goddess...the usual form of the story is that Zeus loved Semele and consorted with her...." (Ibid, 171). Hera, of course was jealous and tricked the girl into asking Zeus to show himself to her in his true from. She was fried by his thunderbolts which cannot help but constantly shoot from his true form, but Zeus was able to save the child that she carried. I can find no authority who says that Dionysus mother was a virgin. But this is one of the tricky ones, she may have known no mortal man, but she was not the product of virginal conception. She was also not mortal herself, so the idea of her having a Virginal conception is out of the question, because whatever she did would be supernatural anyway, and we don't' know what gods she dated before Zeus.
2) Dionysus not laid in a manger.
There is one very tiny aspect of a manger-like thing in the Dionysus myth, and it is not very central. A flower basket which could double as a crib was used as one of many fertility symbols. In fact there is no real manger connection at all. Near the end of the 5th century BC the Greek Euripides wrote a play, The Bacchae, one of the major sources of Dionysian mysteries. I've seen skeptics claim that he was laid in a manger at his birth. But he was not, he was laid in Zeus's thigh until he came to term and there is no manger scene at all (Stelman,171).
3) Title "Son of god" Other similarities.
Euripides does refer to Dionysus as "son of god." But that is just profanatory. In mythology gods were like people, they were born, they had parents, and they lived in families. Why? Probably because people do. The phrase "son of god" and the general concept may be "influenced" by paganism in a general sense (see above) but the specific notion of Jesus' incarnation is totally different. Jesus is the incarnation of the divine logos, the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate. He is the incarnation of the rational that created the universe; not a mythological demigod, the offspring of a god and mortal. Besides that, the term "Son of God" in Judaism of Jesus' day was understood as a Euphemism for the Messiah.
4) Dionysus Dying and Rising.
In some stories Dionysus is torn apart by the Titans. In other stories it is Hera's orders that he be torn apart. But he was torn apart, not crucified. Moreover, since he was not an historical figure he was not a flesh and blood man. He did not really die, and his resurrection is not really bodily. His dying and rising are an echo of the death of plant life and fertility in winter and his rising is the rising of the plants in the Spring. "He was the vine which is always pruned as nothing else which bears its fruit; every branch cut away, only the bare stock left, through the winter a dead thing to look at...he was always brought back to life..." (Edith Hamilton, Mythology, Mentor edition, original copywriter 1940, pp. 61-62). Hamilton says that his rising did offer hope of new life, the immortality of the soul. "He was the assurance that death does not end all."
But this is very different from the historical claims of Christ's resurrection. Dionysus did not have an historical existence, no empty tomb, no flesh and blood body seen and felt by witnesses afterward. He is merely the archetype suggested by seasons, the human wish for a rejuvenation and the circularity of nature.
"In Christianity everything is made to turn on a dated experience of a historical Person; it can be seen from I Cor. XV. 3 that the statement of the story early assumed the form of a statement in a Creed. There is nothing in the parallel cases which points to any attempt to give such a basis of historical evidence to belief" A. D. Nock (Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background", 1964, p. 107).
5) Not a savior
Moreover, the followers of Dionysus did not gain their sense of eternal life from Dionysus himself, nor form his death, but from their own drunken ecstasy in the "BÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©chamel." (Yamauchi, in "Easter: Myth, Hallucination or History," and c.f. M. Nilsson, The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistic and Roman Age, 1957).
His death was not an atonement and his resurrection has not even the semblance of an historical, much less history making aspect. But perhaps it was a dress rehearsal.
6) Moreover, he was not crucified as Till claims but instead was torn apart by the Titans.
Osiris was of the most influential families of gods in ancient Egypt. Perhaps in the distant past they were based upon some sort of flesh and blood family, but we know nothing of that. Our knowledge of Orisis is that of a purely mythological family. Isis was the mother goddess, Osiris is the brother and husband of Isis. He possesses generative powers connected to nature, not fertility per se, but to the land so dependent upon water from the Nile for production of crops. Whereas most fertility deities are related to sexual fertility as well as crops Osiris seems to be more connected to crops themselves.
1) no virginal conception is connected to Osiris, they live in a family. They are the product of intercourse of the gods.
Meyer records that Isis and Horus were worshiped as mother and child. Like the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, Isis was "Queen of heaven" pictured with infant seated on her lap. (159). While that may constitute a pagan influence upon latter Christianity, there was no cult of Mother and Child in the Gospels. Osiris' birth stories come from the Hellenistic period. The Greek Poet Plutarch wrote on Isis and Osiris, in which Osiris is conceived and brought forth from the union between Rhea and Kronos, but there is another tradition that Osiris sprang form the sun. (Meyer, p.161). These figures are purely mythical so even the technical virginity above does not apply to them. If being the product of virginal conception was at all important to the Osiris story, or even was ever mentioned in connection with him, one would think that these stories would respect that view. There is no claim that I can find of his 'vigilant conception.' That is, unless one counts the sun as a virgin.
2) No crucifixion
Osiris is killed by Set, his evil brother, who than sank his coffin in the Nile, "thus Horus as the mythological counterpart of the living Pharaoh, succeeded his dead father and assures the triumph of continuity and order in Egyptian life. Isis meanwhile along with Thoth, Horus, Anubis, and Nephthyts employs her magical powers to mummify Osiris and thereby to restore him from death to life." (Meyer, p.157) So we are not dealing with the restoration of actual flesh and blood life, but a mummified state which is merely in a waiting mode, for a future resurrection, and we don't even know if this will be life as a restored flesh and blood person, or life as a mummy. Moreover, this is a purely mythological scene not something played out in history with historical figures. It seems more likely that it is the prototype and perhaps justification for preserving bodies as mummies. What's more, Osiris was not crucified.
One encounters Osiris in the land of the dead waiting to be taken to that afterlife, (Ibid.) no eyewitnesses see him restored to normal human life.
3) References to baptism far fetched
The language with which scholars sometimes speak of these myths, either purposefully or not, suggests a lot more than does the actual story. Osiris was drowned in a box in the Nile which is spoken of in such terms as: "The dead body of Osiris floated in the Nile and he returned to life, this being accomplished by a baptism in the waters of the Nile." (Joseph Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 104.)Wagner suggests that comparing the coffin of Osiris floating on the Nile to baptism is like comparing the sinking to Atlantis to Baptism. (Gunter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967), 260ff.)
4) No resurrection
Easter: Myth, Hallucination or History
by Edwin M. Yamauchi
Updated 22 March 1997
(prof. of History at Miami University, Osford, Ohio)
"This leaves us with the figure of Osiris as the only god for whom there is clear and early evidence of a "resurrection." Our most complete version of the myth of his death and dismemberment by Seth and his twofold resuscitation by Isis is to be found in Plutarch, who wrote in the second century A.D. (cf. J. Gwyn Griffiths, Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride, 1970). His account seems to accord with statements made in the early Egyptian texts. After the New Kingdom (from 1570 B.C.. on) even ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death". "But it is a cardinal misconception to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the "resurrection" of Hebrew-Christian traditions. In order to achieve immortality the Egyptian had to fulfill three conditions: (1) His body had to be preserved, hence mummification. (2) Nourishment had to be provided either by the actual offering of daily bread and beer, or by the magical depiction of food on the walls of the tomb. (3) Magical spells had to be interred with the dead-Pyramid Texts in the Old Kingdom, Coffin Texts in the Middle Kingdom, and the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom. Moreover, the Egyptian did not rise from the dead; separate entities of his personality such as his Ba and his Ka continued to hover about his body".
"Nor is Osiris, who is always portrayed in a mummified form, an inspiration for the resurrected Christ. As Roland de Vaux has observed:
What is meant of Osiris being "raised to life"? Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence. But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead.... This revived god is in reality a "mummy" god (The Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1971, p. 236)".
1) Replaced with Serapis Before Time of Christ
Osiris really belongs more properly to the cult of Isis, he was her consort. It originated in Egypt and was not a mystery religion until after 300 BC , after Ptolemy I, who introduced major changes. Osiris was replaced with Serapis to harmonize Greek and Egyptian cultures. Thus Osiris was not even part of the mystery cult, and thus has no influence upon the "saving" aspects of the cult.
2) Immortality aspects minimal in Osiris time
The Cult moved to Rome where it was at first rejected, but finally was allowed into the city between 37 and 41. Only after the next two centuries did it become a rival of Christianity. Its eventual popularity came from its elaborate ritual and hope of immortality, although this was a latter development which post dates Christian origins and does not include Osiris. During the Osiris phase the immortality aspects were very minimal.
3) Early phase of cult no savior, in period of clash with Christianity, no Osiris!
Thus, during the early part of the cult they had no great savior figure and no salvation aspects to speak of, and in the phase where they competed with Christianity (two or more centuries after the Gospels) they had no dying or rising savior figure. (Ronald Nash, "Was The New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?" the Christian Research Journal, Winter 19994, p 8 )
Only a couple of these sources are Christian Scholars Conze, Edward. Buddhist Scriptures, ,Penguin:1959.:35)
Cumont, Franz. The Mysteries of Mithra. New York: Dover, 1950.
Gordon, Richard. Image and Value in the Greco-Roman World. Aldershot: Variorum, 1996.
Hamilton, Edith. Mentor edition, original copywriter 1940 Mythology, 172). See also World Book Encyclopedia, "Hercules" 1964)
Klausner, Joseph. From Jesus to Paul (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 104
Kramer, S.N. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 183 ,
Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester U. Press, 1975.
La 'resurrection' d'Adonis," in Melanges Isidore Levy, 1955, pp. 207-40).
Meyer, M. (editor) The Ancient Mysteries : A Source Book , San Francisco: Harper, 1987, pp.170-171).
Robinson, Herbert Spencer. Myths and Legends of all Nations, New York: Bantum Books, 1950, 13-16
Seltman, The Twelve Olympians, New York: Thomas Y. Corwell Company, 1960.p 176).
Ulansey, David. Cosmoic Mysteries of Of Mithras (website).
________________.The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World. New York: Oxford U. Press, 1989.
World Book Encyclopedia, "Hercules" 1964