Skip links

Was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth?

Was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth?

This is one of those questions that amaze me that it is STILL raised…so I decided to write it all up. Often I get an email that reads like this:

The reason for this letter is that I am wondering if you could answer a question I have. In one of your html pages the subject of Mithras is touched upon lightly and a link is given for further information. The link goes nowhere though, and I am really interested in finding out more about Mithras and other Dying-God mythologies. The reason is because I often enter correspondences and dialogues with atheists. Recently one such atheist raised his question, and I am still waiting to respond to him, because of my unfamiliarity with the subject. His letter went like this:

How can a historic personage (such as Jesus) have a recorded life (according to the New Testament in the Bible) almost identical to various other mythos out there including but not limited to:

  1. Mithras (Roman Mithraism)

  2. Horus (Egyptian God of Light)

Both of these religions came *before* Christianity and are clearly labeled as myths yet the’stories’ of their lives are, in many ways, identical to the’life’ of Jesus the Christ. Now, before you say that I am jumping logic or that you have never ever heard of what I am talking about.. my question is this:

*IF* the information that I have just stated above is TRUE
*THEN* would it not bear strong evidence to the face that Jesus the Christ was and is not a historic personage?

Just answer that directly. I would appreciate any help or information you could offer on the subject. Thank you


Notice the general allegation–

There are material, significant, and pervasive similarities between the Jesus Christ of the New Testament and other Dying God-figures (and/or Savior-figures), and that these similarities are best explained by the hypothesis that the figure of Jesus is materially derived from (or heavily influenced by) these other Dying God/Savior-figures..

Sometimes the allegation is worded strongly–Jesus was NOT a real person, but a legend; sometimes it is worded less strongly–Jesus was real, but was fused with these derivative mythic elements such that THEY became the core teachings about Jesus.

Now, before we try to analyze this notion, we need to gather some established criteria (from scholars) on how to detect and establish that’borrowing’ (especially “content/material” borrowing) has occurred.

Fortunately, there are a number of established criteria for this (so we don’t have to’makeup’ or’create’ our own), drawing largely from the work of scholars working in the area of Semitic influence on the Greek/Western world (e.g., Walter Burkert, Charles Pengrase, M. L. West), so let’s start with some of their work:

“Since the discovery of the Akkadian epics and of Gilgamesh in particular, there has been no shortage of associations between motifs in these and in the Homeric epics, especially the Odyssey. These motifs can be highlighted and used to surprise, but hardly to prove anything: Approximately the same motifs and themes will be found everywhere. Instead of individual motifs, therefore, we must focus on more complex structures, where sheer coincidence is less likely: a system of deitites and a basic cosmological idea, the narrative structure of a whole scene, decrees of the gods about mankind, or a very special configuration of attack and defense. Once the historical link, the fact of transmission, has been established, then further connections, including linguistic borrowings, become more likely, even if these alone do not suffice to carry the burden of proof.” [OT: ORNEI: 88; his examples often contain elements that are’holdovers’–elements that appear in the borrower that only made sense in the original source…they are unexpected and without purpose in the new usage , since they have been removed from their original context.]”I can anticipate at least two possible lines of criticism that may be employed against my work. One would be that, in stressing similarities and parallels, I have ignored the great differences between Greek and Near Eastern literatures…my answer will be that of course Greek literature has its own character, its own traditions and conventions, and the contrast that might be drawn between it and any of the oriental literatures might far outnumber the common features. If anyone wants to write another book and point them out, I should have no objection…But even if it were ten times the size of mine (600+ pages!), it would not diminish the significance of the likenesses, because they are too numerous and too striking to be put down to chance. You cannot argue against the fact that it is raining by pointing out that much of the sky is blue.” [HI: EFHWAE: viii]

“Difficult and hazardous are words which describe the study of Mesopotamian influence in Greek myths, and an appropriate method is essential. To establish influence, or at least the likelihood of influence, there are two main steps. First it is necessary to establish the historical possibility of influence, and then the parallels between the myths of the areas must fulfill a sufficiently rigorous set of relevant criteria.” [HI: GMM: 5]”The second step of the method is to demonstrate the existence of parallels of the correct nature between the Mesopotamian and Greek literary material. Parallels must have qualities which conform to a suitable set of criteria in order to indicate influence or its likelihood.” [HI: GMM: 5]

“It is all too easy to run eagerly after superficial parallels which cannot really be sustained under a closer scrutiny. Accordingly, the parallels must have similar ideas underlying them and, second, any suggestion of influence requires that the parallels be numerous, complex and detailed, with a similar conceptual usage and, ideally, that they should point to a specific myth or group of related myths in Mesopotamia. Finally, the parallels and their similar underlying ideas must involve central features in the material to be compared. Only then, it would seem, may any claim stronger than one of mere coincidence be worthy of serious consideration ” [HI: GMM: 7]

What kinds of examples do these authors offer us?

  • West gives the example of Semitic idiom expressed in the Greek narrative text– totally unexplainable apart from borrowing [HI: EFHWAE]
  • Burkert gives the example of the single-mention Tethsys (as wife of Oceanus, in Homer), as a translation of Tiamat (as wife of Apsu, in Enuma Elish)–Tethsys never occurs in all of mythology anywhere else; it is best/only explained as a narrative’holdover’ from borrowed narrative structure [OT: ORNEI: 92ff]
  • Penglase gives the examples of condensed summaries of large mythic complexes (implying reader familiarity) and of combinations of motif/underlying ideas applied in new contexts flawlessly, in Hesiod and Homer [HI: GMM: 237ff]
  • Puhvel gives the parallel scenes of Typhon in the sea (Nonnos) and Ullikummi (Hittite myth), in which numerous visual details and spatial arrangements are described in similar terms, in similar narrative context, and in similar sequence [WR: CM: 29;’numerous, complex, detailed’]
    Now, if we extract some principles from these scholars, we would end up with:

    1. Similarity of general motifs is not enough to “prove anything”; we must have “complex structures” (e.g.,’system of deities’,’narrative structure’).
    2. Ideally, we would need to establish the historical link first, before looking for borrowings.
    3. Differences between structures/stories/complexes do not disprove influence, as long as the parallels are’too numerous’ and’too striking’.
    4. Parallels must be’striking’ (i.e., unexpected,’odd’, difficult to account for).
    5. Some/many parallels/parallel motifs are superficial (i.e., identical on the surface), and’prove nothing’.
    6. Parallels that can be used to support the possibility of influence need to be numerous.
    7. Parallels that can be used to support the possibility of influence need to be complex (i.e., with multiple parts and interrelationships).
    8. Parallels that can be used to support the possibility of influence need to be detailed.
    9. The details in alleged parallels must have the same “conceptual usage” reflected in them (e.g., they must be used with the same meaning).
    10. The parallels must have the same’ ideas underlying them’.
    11. The similar ideas in alleged parallels must be’central features’ in the material–and not just isolated or peripheral elements.
    12. Details which are completely unexpected (to the point of being unexplainable apart from borrowing) are strong evidence for borrowing
    13. Details which are almost irrelevant to the new context, but which have function in the old context are strong evidence for borrowing

    Now, let me also point out here that the amount and texture of the evidence has to be very strong, for even in cases that do NOT look superficial, there still may be considerable doubt about the actual fact of direct influence or borrowing. Take this case from [HI: CMY6: 13f]:

      “For example, there are obvious parallels between the Greek creation and succession myths and myths of Near Eastern cultures. The myth of the castration of Uranus by Cronus is better understood if we compare it with the Hittite myth of Kumarbi, in which Anu, the sky-god, is castrated by Kumarbi, who rises against him. Kumarbi swallows Anu’s genitals, spits them out when he cannot contain them, and is finally replaced by the storm-god. The structure of this tale is paralleled by the myth of Uranus, castrated by Cronus, who, in his turn, cannot hold what he as swallowed (in this case, his children) and is eventually replaced by the sky-god Zeus. Some details in the two tales, of course, are different, but the basic functions (kingship, revolt, castration, swallowing, regurgitation, replacement by a new king) are the same and occur in the same sequence. Thus the basic structure is the same and a better understanding of the origin and purpose of the Greek myth, as narrated by Hesiod, is achieved by comparison with the older myth from Near Eastern culture. Whether direct influence can be proved ( and scholars do not agree on this point ), the structural similarities do at least show how Greek myths are to be studied in conjunction with those of other cultures.” [emphasis mine]

    The point I want to make here is that even with this’numerous, complex, and detailed’ structure, scholars are STILL NOT sure that borrowing happened! So, our evidence for borrowing will have to be at least stronger than this example.
    So, to apply these to our case here, we would need to show that:

    • The similarities between Jesus (as portrayed in the NT– not by the later post-apostolic Church Fathers) and the other relevant Savior-gods are very numerous, very’striking’, non-superficial, complex, within similar conceptual or narrative structures, detailed, have the same underlying ideas, be difficult to account for apart from borrowing, and be’core’ or’central’ to the story/image/motif enough to suspect borrowing;
      • That we can come up with a historically plausible explanation of HOW the borrowing occurred;
        What this means, of course, is that it is not simply enough to point to some vague similarities and yell “copycat!”–one must, in light of the scholars’ criteria documented above, be prepared somehow to defend his/her alleged parallels from the charge of being’superficial’ and to show that they are’striking’ (a rather subjective term, of course). In the scholarly world, noted above, the burden of argument was on the’proponent’ of borrowing. Each of the scholars above realizes that there is a certain amount of subjectivity in how much one’weights’ the pieces, and our case is no different. The reader has to decide whether the parallels advanced by the CopyCatist are numerous, detailed, striking, complex, central, etc., etc. Even in such a monumental work as that by West, he can point out: “I am well aware that some of the parallels are more compelling that others. Readers must decide for themselves what weight they attach to each.” [HI: EFHWAE: viii])

        Now, we need to be really clear about the time frame we are talking about here. The issue that I am trying to address deals only with the New Testament literature, specifically the gospels and post-Revelation epistles. I am not at all interested in’defending’ the wide array of post-apostolic‘interpretations’ and’syncretistic methods’ of any later Christian folk–including the Church Fathers. It is the Jesus of the gospels and epistles, and the claims made and images used of Him and His work on our behalf in them that concerns me here. This means that Christian material and events after around 65ad are of little concern to me (except as it bears on questions of NT authorship perhaps), and does not count as evidence for New Testament authors’ “borrowing” of mythic/pagan elements in their creation of the foundational documents of the church–because of the time frames involved. For example, the fact that the New Testament nowhere assigns a specific date (year, month, date, or day of week) to the birthday of Jesus, means that any allegations that the post-apostolic church later’borrowed’ a birthday from a rival figure (e.g. Mithras, Sol Invictus) is irrelevant to the original objection above. [We will, of course, have to discuss the sociological aspects of that possibility below.]

        So, let’s examine each of these in turn: .

        The similarities between Jesus (as portrayed in the NT) and the other relevant Savior-gods are very numerous, very’striking’, non-superficial, complex, within similar conceptual or narrative structures, detailed, have the same underlying ideas, and be’core’ or’central’ to the story/image/motif enough to suspect borrowing; This issue is somehow seen as the’strength’ of the position(!), for the normal reader can sometimes be amazed at alleged similarities (note the words “almost identical” in the email question above).

      • However, there are several considerations that must be examined BEFORE we get into the alleged similarities: Consideration: There is a surprising tendency of scholars of all persuasions to adopt Christian terminology in describing non-Christian religions, rituals, myths, etc. (e.g. “baptism”, the “Last Supper”). [Joseph Campbell is sometimes a good example of this.] Sometimes this is done to establish some conceptual link for the reader, but often it borders on misleading the reader. Too often a writer uses such terminology imprecisely in describing a non-Christian element and then expresses shock in finding such similarities between the religions. Nash points this out:

        “One frequently encounters scholars who first use Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices, and then marvel at the striking parallels they think they have discovered. One can go a long way toward “proving” early Christian dependence on the mysteries by describing some mystery belief or practice in Christian terminology…Exaggerations and oversimplifications abound in this kind of literature. One encounters overblown claims about alleged likenesses between baptism and the Lord’s Supper and similar “sacraments” in certain mystery cults…The mere fact that Christianity has a sacred meal and a washing of the body is supposed to prove that it borrowed these ceremonies from similar meals and washings in the pagan cults. By themselves, of course, such outward similarities prove nothing. After all, religious ceremonies can assume only a limited number of forms, and they will naturally relate to important or common aspects of human life. The more important question is the meaning of the pagan practices .” [http: //]

        Nash is demonstrating one of the criteria we noted above–that the details must have the same underlying idea, for it to count as a parallel. [He uses the phrase “outward” similarities, in a similar usage to how Penglase uses “superficial”.] A ritual dip in water, for example, is NOT a baptism if its purpose in the dogma of a particular religion is different. According the scholarly criteria, the lack of parallel in the underlying idea or’conceptual usage’ destroys this as piece of evidence for borrowing.


        A good example of this might be the rite of the Taurobolium (from the cult of the Worship of the Great Mother or Cybele/Attis). In it a priest stood in a pit under a plank floor containing a bull and a lamb (the two are always connected in the inscriptions). The bull was slaughtered and the blood of the animal fell upon the priest below. The priest comes up’consecrated’ to the priesthood, and is hailed as’reborn’ ( renatus ). In one late text (fourth century), he is said to have been’reborn eternally’.

        Predictably, some writers have used the phrase “washed in the blood of the Lamb” or “sprinkled with the blood of Jesus” to describe this ceremony, and earlier commentators have seen this as perhaps the basis for Paul’s teaching in Romans 6 (union with Christ), images of’spiritual childgrowth’, the new birth, and even resurrection. Although there are perhaps those who still hold to this, this has largely been abandoned :

        “Still others suggest that Paul’s conception is related to ideas of union with a dying and rising god that was popular in Hellenistic’mystery religions.’ These’mystery religions,’ a group of religions very popular in the Hellenistic world, featured secret initiations and promised their adherents’salvation,’ often by participation in a cultic act that was held to bring the initiate into union with a god. Under the impulse of the history-of-religions movement early in this century, many scholars attributed various doctrines of Paul to dependence on these religions. But direct dependence of Paul on these religions is now widely discounted. More popular is the view that Paul’s Hellenistic churches interpreted their experience of Christ in the light of these religions and that Paul’s teaching demonstrates point of contact with, and corrections of, this existing tradition … The mystical and repeated ‘dying and rising’ of a mystery religion adherent with a nature god like Osiris or Attis has little to do with Paul’s focus on the Christian’s participation in the historical events of Christ’s life.” [NICNT, ‘Romans’, p362n54]

        “Ancient Near Eastern religions had long had traditions of dying-and-rising gods, general vegetation deities renewed annually in the spring. Some ancient sources, especially early Christian interpretations of these religions, suggest that initiates into various mystery cults “died and rose with” the deity. Scholars early in the twentieth century naturally saw in this tradition the background for Paul’s language here. Although the evidence is still disputed, it is not certain that the mysteries saw a once-for-all dying-and-rising in baptism, as in Paul, until after Christianity became a widespread religious force in the Roman Empire that some other religious groups imitated. More important, the early Christian view of resurrection is certainly derived from the Jewish doctrine rather than from the seasonal revivification of Greek cults. ” [BBC, at Rom 6]

        “On the basis of this evidence it can be firmly concluded that a direct influence from any mystery cult or from the Isis cult in particular, on Paul or on the theology of Rom 6: 3–4, is most unlikely ” [WBC, Romans, 6.3f]

        “The older history of religions school sought to find the derivation of the notion ‘new birth’ in the mystery religions of the Hellenistic world, where initiates passed from death into life by being brought into a mysterious intimacy with the deity. But in the light of the scarcity of early ‘new birth’ terminology such as anagennao in the mystery religions, recent scholarship has sought an origin of the concept elsewhere …A more likely origin has been found in the OT and Judaism” [NT: DictLNT, s.v. ‘new birth’]

        “Some scholars have seen the background for such terminology (e.g. childhood and growth) in the mystery religions, with their notion of spiritual progression through various cultic rituals. Though some aspects of these texts can be understood in this context, the notion of stages of faith was already present in some of the most distinctive teaching of Jesus, and ordinary family relationships provide a more plausible background here.” [NT: DictLN , s.v. ‘sonship, child, children”]

        “Some scholars have suggested that it was taken over from Greek mystery religions, in which initiation was conceived in terms of death and resurrection. From considerations of the late date of the records of these rites and differences of interpretation, particularly as to whether initiates in such cults clearly identified with a deity in death and resurrection or were offered immortality through such ritual experience, the suggestion is highly unlikely [NT: DictPL, s.v., “dying and rising”]

        “Some have suggested that Paul was influenced by the Greek mystery religions in his concept of dying and rising with Christ. But this hypothesis is unnecessary and unlikely: Baptism is a very Jewish phenomenon, and there is little doubt that it came to Christians directly or indirectly from John the Baptist. For John baptism was very much associated with the advent of the eschatological day of the Lord, and this eschatological dimension continues in Christian baptism. But for Christians like Paul the decisive eschatological events are the death and resurrection of Jesus; it is thus intelligible that baptism as the rite of initiation into the saved eschatological community should come to be associated with Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. There is therefore no need to invoke the mystery religions to explain Paul’s baptismal teaching. It is, however, possible that the Jesus-traditions that speak of taking up the cross and sharing in the sufferings of Jesus were influential.” [PFJFC: 155f]

        Now, the main reason this position has generally been abandoned (as noted above) is that it is altogether unnecessary, and less’useful’ as an explanatory construct: the elements in the gospels and epistles all make more sense as having developed out of mainstream Judaism and have much more’numerous, complex, and striking parallels’ to Old Testament/Tanaach themes and passages. Apart from issues of chronology and questions of motivation for borrowing (separate problems from that of detecting forceful parallels), the Jewish background furnishes us with a system of underlying ideas needed to make sense of the imagery.

        Don Howell explains the general rationale for the diminishing of this’borrowing’ position [ BibSac , V150, #599, Jul 93, p310]:

        “At the turn of the 20th century a new approach to Paul was forged by the religionsgeschichtliche Schule , “ the History of Religions School. ” Spawned in Germany, this approach built on the Tübingen dichotomy between Palestinian and Hellenistic Christianity, and found the origins of the more developed Pauline Christology in the mystery religions and pagan cults of the Greek world. The mystery religions of Greece (Eleusian), Egypt (Isis and Osiris), Syria (Adonis), Asia Minor (Cybele), and Rome (Mithras) were researched and mined for parallels with Pauline theology. A dying-rising redeemer god, the exalted kurios , sacramental redemption, initiation into mystic participation in the deity, gnosis, and pneumatic experience were mystery-religion concepts claimed to have conditioned Paul’s thinking.

        “Two pioneers in this field were Bousset and Reitzenstein. Bousset argued that the Jesus of the primitive Palestinian church was the eschatological Son of Man, largely derived from Daniel 7: 13–14. But in the Greek-speaking Christian communities like Antioch, Jesus was transformed, under the influence of the Hellenistic mystery cults, into the acclaimed kurios. “Behind the personal piety of Paul and his theology there stands as a real power and a living reality the cultic veneration of the kurios in the community.” With consummate skill Bousset explored the Hermetic literature, Philo, Gnostic documents, and the cults of Isis, Osiris, and Orphis and discovered “parallels” with Paul’s Christ-mysticism (“in Christ”), doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Christ-Adam theology, cross and sacrament, and the dying-rising Redeemer. Reitzenstein, a philologist and authority on Eastern Gnosticism, researched the second-and third-century Hermetic literature and concluded that Gnostic terminology was the source of Paul’s Christology. Neill, in an extended survey of the History of Religions approach, credits the Harvard scholar Kirsopp Lake with popularizing in America the arguments of German scholars such as Bousset and Reitzenstein.

        ” The influence of the various religionsgeschichtliche models has greatly diminished in recent decades with the discovery of the Qumran scrolls and wider research in the Jewish materials of the intertestamental (Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) and New Testament (rabbinical traditions) periods. It is no longer feasible to separate Hellenistic and Jewish influences into two hermetically sealed compartments. Paul’s Jewishness is in the process of being rediscovered. But a more fundamental issue is the entire logic of the comparative religionist methodology which presupposes the apostle to have been an inclusivistic, impressionable absorber of alien ideas rather than the proclaimer of a pure gospel of faith and repentance. As Hunter comments,

        They did not stop to consider that their knowledge of these mysteries was really very scanty, that all this amazing transmogrification of the Gospel must have taken place within twenty years, that, if Paul derived his message from his environment, he did what no other missionary has ever done–borrowed his gospel from the people among whom he worked.

        And, C.E. Arnold, in his article on Syncretism in [NT: DictLNT] summarized the current state of scholarship in this way:

        “To what extent did the Hellenistic/Roman syncretism influence the development of early Christianity? H. Gunkel and other adherents of the History-of-Religions School argued that it was a major factor. Gunkel, in fact, concluded that, “Christianity is a syncretistic religion” (Gunkel, 95). He argued that the NT was strongly influenced by many foreign religions, but that these beliefs entered Christianity in the first instance through Judaism, which itself was very strongly syncretistic. R. Bultmann spoke of syncretism more often in connection with Hellenistic Christianity, which he sharply distinguished from Jewish Christianity. He noted, “on the whole, one could be tempted to term Hellenistic Christianity a syncretistic structure” (Bultmann, 1.164). For Bultmann the Jewish apocalyptic kerygma of Jesus was combined with the gnostic myth of redemption as Christianity spread to the Gentile world. Like Gunkel, however, he saw Hellenistic Judaism as “in the grip of syncretism” (Bultmann, 1.171) and therefore as the purveyor of these concepts to Christianity.

        • ” The subsequent course of scholarship has effectively dismantled many of the conclusions drawn by the History-of-Religions School. Various studies have demonstrated that there was not one coherent gnostic redeemer myth nor was there a common mystery-religion theology. We have already touched on the fact that Judaism was not the syncretistic religion that some scholars once thought that it was. Now most scholars are reluctant to assume that Gnosticism even existed during the genesis and early development of Christianity.

          ” The majority of scholars are reaffirming the essential Jewishness of the early Christian movement. The background of various Christian rites, ideas and terms is being illustrated out of the OT and Judaism, in contrast to the previous generation that pointed to gnostic texts and the mystery religions. The background of the Christian practice of baptism, for instance, is now seldom traced to the mystery initiation sacraments of Attis, Adonis or Osiris but to the OT initiation rite of circumcision and the Jewish water purification rituals.

          “Gunkel, Bultmann and others clearly undervalued the formative influence of the OT and Judaism for early Christianity. Neither were they sufficiently open to the possibility that the NT writers could use religious language shared by adherents of other religions without adopting the full meaning of that language, as it was understood in other religious contexts. In other words, Christian writers could use the term mystery (e.g., Rev 10: 7; Ign. Magn. 9.1; Diogn. 4.6) without implying that Christianity is a mystery religion like the cults of Cybele or Mithras. John could use the image of light (1 Jn 1: 5, 7; 2: 8, 9, 10) without dependence on a gnostic light-darkness dualism. Both of these terms have long histories of usage in the OT that provide us with the essential conceptual framework for understanding their NT usage. Yet at the same time they are terms that would communicate in a Gentile world, albeit now with a different set of connotations.

          “There is also evidence that the apostles and leaders in the early Christian movement made explicit and earnest attempts to resist the syncretistic impulses of the age. For example, when Paul preached in Lystra (Acts 14: 8–20), he was faced with an opportunity to make a syncretistic innovation to the gospel. Luke records that after Paul healed a crippled man the people of the city mistook him for Hermes (the messenger of Zeus) and Barnabas for Zeus. Rather than allowing any form of identification with their gods (even the identification of “the living God” with Zeus), Paul takes the bold step of telling them to “turn from these worthless things” to the one God, the Creator (Acts 14: 15). Earliest Christianity appears to have made stringent effort to resist the larger cultural trend toward the identification of deities and directed people to the God of Israel, who had now revealed himself in the Lord Jesus Christ.

          To illustrate this from one of the alleged examples of borrowing, “ washed in the blood of the Lamb ” makes perfect sense being seen against the background of OT usage :

          “Making robes white with blood is clearly a ritual rather than visual image: sacrificial blood purified utensils for worship in the Old Testament (see comment on Heb 9: 21–22), and white was the color of robes required for worship in the New Testament period. [BBC, in.loc.]

          Likewise, the same goes for “ sprinkled with the blood of Jesus “, which could refer back to either of two OT passages/themes [although the Numbers 19 passage does not have any blood actually in the water of purification]:

          “Such an understanding helps explain why obedience precedes rather than follows the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” The latter phrase gives concreteness and vividness to Peter’s brief glance at Christian conversion. “sprinkling with the blood,” recalls the Jewish sacrificial system, particularly as seen from a distance or in retrospect by the early Christians. The apparent origin of the (sprinkling) terminology is the ceremony described in Numbers 19 in which ashes from the burning of a red heifer are mixed with water and sprinkled for purification on those who have defiled themselves by contact with a corpse (the phrase “water of sprinkling,” occurs repeatedly in Num 19: 9, 13, 20, 21 LXX). In Barn. 8, this passage in its entirety is applied to Christ’s redemptive death, its imagery of sprinkling being associated with Jesus’ blood rather than with water and ashes ( Barn. 5.1; 8.3; in the NT cf. Heb 9: 13–14).

          “More significantly, Hebrews uses the same language (where the LXX did not) in connection with the institution of the Mosaic covenant: Moses built an altar at the foot of Sinai, and when he had sacrificed cattle he threw half of the blood against the altar; the other half he put in bowls, and read aloud to the people out of the scroll of the covenant the Lord’s commands. When they promised to obey all that the Lord commanded, Moses took the bowls and threw the remaining blood at the people, saying (in the words of Heb 9: 20), “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you” (cf. Exod 24: 3–8; Heb 9: 18–21). In Hebrews, the blood of the covenant poured out by Moses corresponds to the “blood of sprinkling” shed by Jesus, the “mediator of the new covenant” (Heb 12: 24; cf. 10: 29). The participants in this new covenant are invited to “draw near with a true heart in the full confidence of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse a guilty conscience and having the body washed in pure water” (10: 22). Peter lacks the direct reference to Christian baptism (although cf. 3: 20), but the close connection between obedience and sprinkling suggests that Exod 24: 3–8 is as determinative for his imagery as for that of Hebrews. Without speaking explicitly of a “new covenant” or the “blood of the covenant” (which may in his circles have been reserved for the Eucharist, cf. Mark 14: 24; 1 Cor 11: 25), Peter relies on language that had perhaps become already fixed among Christians as a way of alluding to the same typology. To “obey” was to accept the gospel and become part of a new community under a new covenant; to be sprinkled with Jesus’ blood was to be cleansed from one’s former way of living and released from spiritual slavery by the power of his death (cf. 1: 18). Peter’s choice of images confirms the impression that he writes to communities of Gentiles as if they were a strange new kind of Jew.

          The First Covenant was inaugurated with this ceremony (cf. also Heb 9.18ff):

          Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. 2 “Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.” 3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “ Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” [Ex 23.1-7]

          As the New Covenant–from the New Moses of Deut 18– was inaugurated with Christ’s blood (but not physically literal):

          And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. [Lk 22.20]

          (By the way, these biblical events are covenant inauguration events — NOT acts of individual dedication, consecration, or ordination. The underlying ideas/structures of these events would be more’parallel’ to the sacrifices performed when Cybele was first’adopted’ by the Romans in 204 bc , than to the multiple, individual ordinations of priests and high priests. Even the passage in 1 Peter 1.2 is not individual in nature: “In the Old Testament and Judaism, God’s people were corporately “chosen,” or “predestined,” because God “foreknew” them; Peter applies the same language to believers in Jesus. Obedience and the sprinkling of blood also established the first covenant (Ex 24: 7–8).” [BBC, at 1 Pet 1.2]…the underlying ideas needed to establish non-superficial parallels, in this case, reveal major structural differences between the events in the bible and the taurobolia of Roman times)

          Now, unless one is going to argue that the OT passage is somehow dependent on some at-best-first-century-AD taurobolic experience (perhaps on the basis of both having the’striking parallels’ of sacrificial bulls and sprinkling of blood…sarcastic smile), it should be obvious why modern, mainstream scholarship has abandoned such notions. Any alleged parallels between the Jesus story and the Attis/Cybele/Taurobolic experiences are dwarfed by a host of’numerous, complex, and detailed’ parallels with OT/Judaism.

          If one considers carefully the details of the history of the ritual (see mostlybull.html ), the taurobolic ceremony (of Cybele/Attis–NOT the one by Mithra) in the Roman period was:

          • A substitutionary castration, in which the priest was’vicariously’ castrated in the castration of the bull
          • A regular sacrifice, which could be performed for the benefit of the Emperor and Empire
          • A’rebirth’ to virtue/purity and’good luck’ for twenty years (even the 4th century phrase’to eternity’ doesn’t mean the same thing as in Christianity–see the article )
          • A dedication/consecration of a priest to the (existing) service/religion of the Goddess Cybele
          • A (possible) re-enactment of an old hunter-goddess myth (the capture and killing of the bull by a goddess with a hunting spear)
            Apart from the general, “non-striking”, and ubiquitous motifs of sacrifice, consecration, (possible) rebirth, blood sprinkling, and substitution, there just aren’t any’numerous, complex, and detailed’ correspondences with the NT documents. Even the closest candidate–sprinkling with blood–was too general a practice in the ancient world to be’striking’ [e.g., in several orgiastic cults the priests/priestesses would whip or cut themselves with knives, and sprinkle their blood on the idols of the god/goddess ].

            And the next closest candidate–‘rebirth’–is neither a technical term of the Mysteries, nor is it close enough in meaning to NT usage to consider it parallel:

            “Though Philo borrows not a little from the Mysteries, he does not use this verb (‘rebirth’). On the other hand, Josephus uses it in a general sense, with no evident dependence on the Mysteries. Bell. , 4, 484… Thus at the time of the NT (rebirth) was not common, but it was used generally and not merely in the Mysteries, like the Latin renasci . This is confirmed by the use of the substantive (in Philo)… Philo employs this for the Stoic doctrine of the rejuvenation of the world… ( Aet. Mund.). Elsewhere he has the term paliggenesiva for the same thing, e.g., Aet. Mund., 9…The mere mention of (‘rebirth’) does not prove any dependence on the Mysteries; this applies equally to 1 Pt. 1: 3, 23…There is a profound gulf between the religion of the Mysteries, in which man is deified by magical rites, and this religion of faith…As the OT and Jewish elements are very much alive in this religion, so the origin of the thought of regeneration is to be sought in Judaism. It is true that the Jews did not describe themselves or others as regenerate. Yet they hoped for a new life for the world and themselves, and they did not speak of this merely as resurrection or new creation, but also thought in terms of paliggenesiva and palin genesthai when speaking Greek. [TDNT, s.v. “anagennao”] “ Anagennan is found in the NT only here and in v 23, and not at all in the LXX (except for one doubtful variant in Sir, Prol. 28). It is the equivalent of gennan anothen in John 3: 3, 7 and may have been derived from a slightly different form of that very saying of Jesus (cf., e.g., Justin Martyr, Justin, Apol. 1.61.3. “For the Christ also said, Unless you are born again, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”; cf. also Matt 18: 3– ” He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “)… Certainly the Gospel tradition, is a nearer and more plausible source for Peter’s terminology than, e.g., the pagan mystery religions (as proposed by R. Perdelwitz; in refutation, cf. F. Büchsel, TDNT 1: 673–75, and Selwyn, 305–11). Anagennao is found in only one (fourth century A.D.) text bearing on mystery religions: Sallustius, De Deis 4 (ed. A. D. Nock [1926] 8, 24). [WBC, 1 Peter 1.3]

            “In 376, a follower declared himself ‘reborn for eternity’ and two inscription from Turin are consecrated viribus aeterni, that is to say to the ‘force’ (vital, sexual) of the ‘eternal’, in commemoration of a taurobolium. In fact, we know that this bloody ‘baptism’ was held to regenerate for twenty years the man or woman who descended into the pit. The Latin aeternus indeed implies durability rather than transcendental eternity in the Christian sense.” [HI: TCRE: 52]

            Sorry for all the detail (but there’s more, obviously, in the history piece at mostlybull.html), and we will get into the Attis/resurrection thing again later, but I wanted to document the fact that, and show why the “Mystery Religions” version of the CopyCat thesis– relative to New Testament formation (not the writings of the post-apostolic church!)– has been generally abandoned in the scholarly arena of New Testament studies. Before Qumran and before the rise in our understanding of “less-official” Judaism as found in the Pseudepigrapha, it was a little more believable, but after the last fifty years, it is difficult to maintain the position easily.


            Another very common alleged similarity is the virgin birth. Other religious figures, especially warrior gods (and actually some heroic human figures such as Alexander the Great) over time became associated with some form of miraculous birth, occasionally connected with virginity. It is all too easy to simply accept this on face value without investigating further. In Raymond Brown’s research on the Birth Narratives of Jesus [BM: 522-523], he evaluates these non-Christian “examples” of virgin births and his conclusions bear repeating here:

            “Among the parallels offered for the virginal conception of Jesus have been the conceptions of figures in world religions (the Buddha, Krishna, and the son of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology (Perseus, Romulus), in Egyptian and Classical History (the Pharaohs, Alexander, Augustus), and among famous philosophers or religious thinkers (Plato, Apollonius of Tyana), to name only a few.”Are any of these divinely engendered births really parallel to the non-sexual virginal conception of Jesus described in the NT, where Mary is not impregnated by a male deity or element, but the child is begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit? These “parallels” consistently involve a type of hieros gamos (note: “holy seed” or “divine semen”) where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman, either through normal sexual intercourse or through some substitute form of penetration. In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus. “

            And the history-of-religions scholar David Adams Leeming (writing in EOR, s.v. “Virgin Birth”) begins his article by pointing out that all’virgin births’ are NOT necessarily such:

            “A virgin is someone who has not experienced sexual intercourse, and a virgin birth, or parthenogenesis (Gr., parthenos, “virgin”; genesis , “birth”), is one in which a virgin gives birth. According to this definition, the story of the birth of Jesus is a virgin birth story whereas the birth of the Buddha and of Orphic Dionysos are not. Technically what is at issue is the loss or the preservation of virginity during the process of conception. The Virgin Mary was simply “found with child of the Holy Ghost” before she was married and before she had “known” a man. So, too, did the preexistent Buddha enter the womb of his mother, but since she was already a married woman, there is no reason to suppose she was a virgin at the time. In the Ophic story of Dionysos, Zeus came to Persephone in the form of a serpent and impregnated her, so that the maiden’s virginity was technically lost.”

            What these scholars are talking about is the textual data in the account. In other words, does the relevant sacred text describe or imply in any way, a means of impregnation or conception? Leemings comment that Mary was “simply’found with child'” documents the textual data from that miraculous conception story–the text simply omits any comment, description, or implication about the method/manner of her becoming pregnant–the sexual element is simply missing altogether. If other accounts suggest or give details of this process –even if not the’normal’ type of intercourse (e.g. a snake, a piece of fruit)–then, according to these scholars, it is not a’virgin conception’ (by comparison). Ancient gods and goddess were typically very sexually’explicit’ and sexually’active’ (!), and this element is completely absent from the biblical narratives and material, especially the story of the virginal conception of Jesus.

            This issue of agency/means is a distinguishing trait of the gospel accounts, compared with other stories of divine-engendered births: “In our discussion of the genre of the birth Narratives we noted that any comparison of Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2 to pagan divine birth stories leads to the conclusion that the Gospel stories cannot be explained simply on the basis of such comparisons. This is particularly the case in regard to the matter of the virginal conception, for what we find in Matthew and Luke is not the story of some sort of sacred marriage (hieros gamos) or a divine being descending to earth and, in the guise of a man, mating with a human woman, but rather the story of a miraculous conception without aid of any man, divine or other wise. The Gospel story is rather about how Mary conceived without any form of intercourse through the agency of the Holy Spirit. As such this story is without precedent either in Jewish or pagan literature, even including the OT.” [NT: DictJG, s.v. “Birth of Jesus”]In fact, it is quite different from the many stories of miracle births in the ancient world:
              “Ancient biographers sometimes praised the miraculous births of their subjects (especially prominent in the Old Testament), but there are no close parallels to the virgin birth. Greeks told stories of gods impregnating women, but the text indicates that Mary’s conception was not sexual;nor does the Old Testament (or Jewish tradition) ascribe sexual characteristics to God. Many miraculous birth stories in the ancient world (including Jewish accounts, e.g., 1 Enoch 106) are heavily embroidered with mythical imagery (e.g., babies filling houses with light), in contrast with the straightforward narrative style of this passage (cf. similarly Ex 2: 1–10). [BBC, Matt 1.18]Let’s take a quick look at the gospel narratives, to see this clearly…Remember the background and sequence of these events:
              “Marriages were arranged for individuals by parents, and contracts were negotiated. After this was accomplished, the individuals were considered married and were called husband and wife. They did not, however, begin to live together. Instead, the woman continued to live with her parents and the man with his for one year. The waiting period was to demonstrate the faithfulness of the pledge of purity given concerning the bride. If she was found to be with child in this period, she obviously was not pure, but had been involved in an unfaithful sexual relationship. Therefore the marriage could be annulled. If, however, the one-year waiting period demonstrated the purity of the bride, the husband would then go to the house of the bride’s parents and in a grand processional march lead his bride back to his home. There they would begin to live together as husband and wife and consummate their marriage physically. Matthew’s story should be read with this background in mind.” Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23). While little is said about Joseph, one can imagine how his heart must have broken. He genuinely loved Mary, and yet the word came that she was pregnant. His love for her was demonstrated by his actions. He chose not to create a public scandal by exposing her condition to the judges at the city gate. Such an act could have resulted in Mary’s death by stoning (Deut. 22: 23-24). Instead he decided to divorce her quietly.

            “Then in a dream (cf. Matt. 2: 13, 19, 22), an angel told Joseph that Mary’s condition was not caused by a man, but through the Holy Spirit (1: 20; cf. v. 18). The Child Mary carried in her womb was a unique Child, for He would be a Son whom Joseph should name Jesus for He would save His people from their sins. These words must have brought to Joseph’s mind the promises of God to provide salvation through the New Covenant (Jer. 31: 31-37). The unnamed angel also told Joseph that this was in keeping with Gods eternal plan, for the Prophet Isaiah had declared 700 years before that the virgin will be with Child (Matt. 1: 23; Isa. 7: 14). While Old Testament scholars dispute whether the Hebrew almah should be rendered “young woman” or “virgin,” God clearly intended it here to mean virgin (as implied by the Gr. word parthenos ). Mary’s miraculous conception fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and her Son would truly be Immanuel… God with us. In light of this declaration Joseph was not to be afraid to take Mary into his home (Matt. 1: 20). There would be misunderstanding in the community and much gossip at the well, but Joseph knew the true story of Mary’s pregnancy and Gods will for his life.

            “As soon as Joseph awakened from this dream, he obeyed. He violated all custom by immediately taking Mary into his home rather than waiting till the one-year time period of betrothal had passed. Joseph was probably thinking of what would be best for Mary in her condition. He brought her home and began to care and provide for her. But there was no sexual relationship between them until after the birth of this Child, Jesus. [Bible Knowledge Commentary, at Matt 1.18ff]

            The most detailed text we have about this event is Luke 1.35: “And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon ( epileusetai ) you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow ( episkiasei ) you”The “Holy Spirit coming upon you” is not to be conceived as some kind of spiritual’intercourse’–this is a stock, generic phrase from OT literature. It means empowerment, being set apart for a special task, and the such like. Look at some of the examples: The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 “Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you shall not bear it all alone. [Num 11.16] And when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. [Jud 3.9]
            Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. [Jud 6.34]Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. 6 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a kid though he had nothing in his hand; [Jud 14.5]Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man. [1 Sam 10.6]Then the Spirit came upon Amasai, who was the chief of the thirty, and he said, “We are yours, O David, And with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, And peace to him who helps you; Indeed, your God helps you!” Then David received them and made them captains of the band. [1 Chr 12.18]Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. [Is 42.1]And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. 29 “And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. [Joel 2.28ff]
            [and of course, all the prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, as the “Spirit came upon them”]

            On of the more interesting uses occurs is in Isaiah 32.15, which might be echoed in the Virgin conception and in the cases of’barren conceptions’–the image of miraculous/spectacular fertility: Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fertile field. And the fertile field is considered as a forest. [Is 32.15]
            This is part of the reason why the NT scholars I cite here are so confident (even for’cautious’ scholars) that pagan sexual elements are NOT in the New Testament texts.
            The angel had paid a visit to her home, and “ gone into/unto/to her ” (same Greek phrase as Joseph’going into Pilate’ to ask for the body of Jesus in Mk 15.23; the angel’going into/unto’ Cornelius in Acts 10.3; and the accusation of Peter’going into/unto’ Gentiles and eating with them in Acts 11.3). The angel announced the good news of God’s promise to Israel and Mary asks’how’? The verse in 1.35 actually doesn’t answer the question at all, but it does avoid saying some things (even’coyly’): “There is not the slightest evidence that either of the verbs involved has ever been used in relation to sexual activity or even more broadly in connection with the conception of a child (cf. Fitzmyer, TS 34 [1973] 569; not eperchesthai but epibainein would be needed to express the notion of coming upon [mounting] sexually [e.g., PhiloDeSom 1.200]). [WBC, in.loc.]Instead, the verbs express more general notions of God’s providence and faithfulness to His promises: “ [T]o come upon ,” is Septuagintal idiom but is used in connection with the Spirit only at Isa 32: 15 ”). Acts 1: 8 “

              .” Since Luke nowhere else refers to the coming of the Spirit in these terms, he is probably drawing attention to the Greek text of Isa 32: 15 in both cases: this is the eschatological coming of the Spirit that will where the MT has (“will be poured out when the Holy Spirit comes upon you cause the wilderness to become a fruitful field….“ will overshadow ,” like “ will come upon ,” has probably been influenced by the LXX text of Exod 40: 35, perhaps via the transfiguration account (Luke 9: 34): Mary’s experience is to be compared to the dramatic way in which Gods glory and the cloud marking his presence came down upon the completed tabernacle” [WBC, in.loc.]
              “The word for “overshadow” (episkiazo) carries the sense of the holy, powerful presence of God, as in the description of the cloud that “covered” (Heb. sakan; NIV, “settled upon”) the tabernacle when the tent was filled with the glory of God (Exod 40: 35; cf. Ps 91: 4). The word is used in all three accounts of the Transfiguration to describe the overshadowing of the cloud (Matt 17: 5; Mark 9: 7; Luke 9: 34). [EBCNT, in. loc.]So, one needs to be VERY careful and detailed in examining alleged parallels between figures widely separated in space and time. [And remember, we are focused only on the formation of the New Testament documents (and the content-traditions behind them)–NOT what the post-apostolic community will do with them!]

              Consideration :

                We need also remember that our question deals only with the issue of the New Testament content–not the Councils, not the hymns, not the Fathers, not the sects, not the Apocrypha. We are concerned with the Jesus of the gospels and of the message of the post-ascension early Church. Items and elements’borrowed’ from non-Christian religions after the first century AD. simply cannot be used to argue for borrowing in the years 33-70 a.d., when the NT was composed.

              Pushback: “Well wait a minute, bud…didn’t the late church start’stealing ideas’ from paganism–like Sol Invictus’ December 25th birthday for Jesus? And if later Christians did that, why in the world would we believe the first ones wouldn’t steal ideas, too?!”

              This is a different type of argument, dealing with motivation/psychology (‘ what might have happened‘) instead of history (‘ what the evidence indicates‘), and so our approach may have to be a bit different. But before we get into this, let’s examine the oft-stated belief about the stealing of December 25th… First, let’s note that it is not at all certain that this theft actually occurred –the data is mixed: “In regard to the day of Jesus’ birth, as early as Hippolytus (A.D. 165–235) it was said to be December 25, a date also set by John Chrysostom (A.D. 345–407) whose arguments prevailed in the Eastern Church. There is nothing improbable about a mid-winter birth. Luke 2: 8 tells us that the shepherds’ flocks were kept outside when Jesus was born. This detail might favor a date between March and November when such animals would normally be outside. But the Mishnah (m. sûeqal. 7.4) suggests that sheep around Bethlehem might also be outside during the winter months (Hoehner). Therefore, though there is no certainty, it appears that Jesus was born somewhere between 4–6 B.C., perhaps in mid-winter. Both the traditional Western date for Christmas (Dec. 25) and the date observed by the Armenian Church (Jan. 6) are equally possible. The biblical and extra-biblical historical evidence is simply not specific enough to point decisively to either traditional date. The celebration of the nativity is attested in Rome as early as A.D. 336 and this celebration also involved recognizing January 6 as Epiphany, the day the Magi visited Jesus.” [NT: DictJG, s.v.’birth of jesus’]

              “The exact day of Jesus birth’ is unknown. The Gnostic Basilidians in Egypt ( late second century) commemorated Jesus’ baptism on January 6, and by the early fourth century many Christians in the East were celebrating both his nativity and baptism then…. In 274 Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25 as the celebration of the’Unconquerable Sun,” the first day in which there was a noticeable increase in light after the winter solstice. The earliest mention of a Feast of the Nativity is found in a document composed in 336. Some feel Constantine (who died in 337) may have selected this day for Christmas because of a deep-seated respect for the popular pagan solstice festival. Others argue that the date was chosen as a replacement for it, that it, to honor the’Sun of Righteousness.’ Firmly established in the West within a few decades, another century passed before the Eastern church adopted December 25…The only holdout was the Armenian church, which still observes the nativity on January 6.” [TK: 104f]”Aurelian celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (“birthday of Sol Invictus”) on December 25. Whether this festival was celebrated earlier than the third century is unknown. Nor is it certain that December 25 was the birthday of Mithras as well as of Sol Invictus. This has not prevented many scholars from assuming that Mithraic influence upon Christianity was involved in the adoption of this date for Christmas…Roger Beckwith concludes that’a date in the depths of winter (January-February) is therefore one of the two possibilities; and it may be that Clement, and through him Hippolytus, were in possession of a genuine historical tradition to this effect, which in the course of time had been mistakenly narrowed down to a particular day.’…Clement of Alexandria (circa 200) in his Stromateis (1.146) noted that Gnostic Basilidians in Egypt celebrated Jesus’ baptism either on January 10 or January 6. By the early fourth century Christians in the East were celebrating Jesus’ birth on January 6…” [OT: PAB: 520f]

              Later church tradition remembered it as a’competitive strategy’: “The reason, then, why the fathers of the church moved the January 6th celebration to December 25th was this, they say: it was the custom of the pagans to celebrate on this same December 25th the birthday of the Sun, and they lit lights then to exalt the day, and invited and admitted the Christians to these rites. When, therefore, the teachers of the Church saw that Christians inclined to this custom, figuring out a strategy, they set the celebration of the true Sunrise on this day, and ordered Epiphany to be celebrated on January 6th; and this usage they maintain to the present day along with the lighting of lights.” (12th century bishop, cited in [HI: CP68C: 155]

              “The equinoxes and solstices must have been especially sacred. This was verified for the spring equinox of 172, the day when the Mithraeum’of the Seven Spheres’, at Ostia, was opened to a new community. The vernal equinox marked the anniversary of the sacrifice that had revived the world. Perhaps at the winter solstice (25 December) they celebrated the birth of Mithras emerging from the rock…” ( HI: TCRE: 234, emphasis mine…and I might ask the question here as to how many solar deities did NOT celebrate the Winter Solstice as a’rebirth’?! All the ones I know of did (e.g. HI: SSK: 157-65), not sure that really counts as a’historical birthday’ in the same sense as Jesus’; so, Eliade: “The anniversary of the Deus Sol Invictus was set at December 25th, the’birthday’ of all Oriental solar deities” [WR: HRI2: 411]…)
              Secondly, what difference would it have made? The Roman Empire, with the “conversion” of Constantine, knew quite clearly the difference between the Jesus of the Christians and the Sun God of the Roman elite or the Mithras of the military. There would be no confusion between the two. The fierce struggles “for the minds of men” between Christian thought and pagan thought of the past two centuries kept the distinctions very, very clear…”Converting” a holiday from Sol/Mithras to Christ would even “make sense”, given the early Kingdom-theology of the Church (see below discussion)…Just as’converting’ temples would look to them a bit later, and maybe even’converting’ statues (and changing the names, obviously). And you can rest assured that Mithraists no more celebrated the birthday of Christ on that day, any more than the Christians did Mithra’s. For someone to assert that this could only happen if the two’gods’ were already very similar, simply does not understand the intense Christian-versus-pagan polemic of those times, and the highly developed positions within that polemic. The major exchanges between the second and third century Christian apologists and theologians, and the sharp and powerful attacks of Celsus and Porphyry, were only the tip of the iceberg. The Roman legislation battles and the constant watchful eye (and interventions) of the Roman government over this’dangerous sect’ insured that the battle lines were always clear to the rulers, elites, and urban middle-class. And, we don’t even have to get all the way to’conversion’– it might have been picked for’protest’ reasons: “The purpose was that it should be celebrated in opposition to the sun-cult” [NIDNTT]


            1. It’s not clear that it was deliberately set to the same day as the birthday of Sol Invictus (it may have be December 25 anyway )
            2. It’s not clear that it was established later than the first known celebration of Sol’s birthday (Hippolytus is writing before Aurelian’s law)
            3. It could have been deliberately set to the same day , as a’protest’ or’opposition’ movement, or as a’conversion’ initiative– without true’borrowing’ of the holiday itself (i.e., the content and conceptual meaning of the holiday would certainly be massively different, and clear to the participants, even if the’trappings’ were the same)
            4. And, therefore, it is not at all clear that the action was a case of’borrowing pagan ideas’ and smuggling them into Christianity.
              But back to the pushbak: There are two ways to look at this issue:

              First, the pushback doesn’t actually provide any evidence that borrowing occurred during the construction of the New Testament.

              Let’s agree that the later church–somewhere, sometime, someway–did some’illegal syncretism’. What would that actually prove ? Only that some Christians did borrow, and by implication (loosely speaking, though) that other Christians could have done the same thing. And, in the mouth of the pushbacker, it could have been the New Testament authors who could have done this, in the 35-70 AD timeframe.

              But no one is arguing (certainly not me) that they couldn’t have done it , but rather that they didn’t do it. The evidence may support borrowing later; but in our ( earlier ) case, it doesn’t…That’s my argument–that “ the evidence leads us to believe borrowing did not occur “, and NOT that” our presumptions about the purity of the apostolic church leads us to believe it “! Huge difference…

              I don’t put syncretistic borrowing past anyone (pagan or Christian), and we know that splinter groups in the apostolic age did just that. The apostles are constantly having to deal with people who were trying to smuggle non-Jesus elements into the early church: the Jesus-plus-Law group (cf. Galatians), the Jesus-plus-magic group (cf. Acts 19.17ff), Jesus-plus-ApolloTyrimnaeus (cf. Rev 2.20, Thyatira), Jesus-plus-Epicureanism (the adversaries in 2 Peter), Jesus-plus-PlatonicDualism (First John), Jesus-plus-Phrygian-cults (Colossians), Jesus-plus-astrology (Eph 1). Paul himself can be seen in active, aggressive, and’antagonistic’ combat against the various pagan systems of his day; NOT a’borrowing kind of guy’ [quotes below are from NT: DictPL, s.v. “Religions, Greco-Roman”]:

            5. The mystery cults: “However, there are what appear to be a number of words and phrases in Pauline vocabulary which seem to have been derived ultimately from the language used to describe aspects of the mystery cults. These terms, which include “wisdom” (1 Cor 1: 17–31), “knowledge” (1 Cor 8: 1; 13: 8), “spiritual person” contrasted with “psychic person,” (1 Cor 2: 14–16), “to be initiated” (Phil 4: 12), “mystery” and “perfect” or “mature” (1 Cor 2: 5–6), “unutterable” (2 Cor 12: 4), do not appear to be drawn directly from the mystery cults but had much earlier passed into the common fund of figurative religious language. In particular instances it appears that Paul actually adopted the language of his opponents in his attempt to refute them (e.g., 1 Cor 2: 6–13).”
            6. The imperial cult: “The imperial cult was particularly influential throughout Asia Minor, including the eastern region where Tarsus was located. Beginning with the divine Augustus, Roman emperors were frequently lauded with such titles as kyrios (“Lord”) and soter (“savior”), and these titles were also used of Jesus by Paul and other early Christians (Rom 1: 4; 4: 24; 16: 2; Phil 2: 11; 3: 20). While these titles are used of God frequently in the Greek OT, they would have had clear associations with the imperial cult to many ancient Mediterraneans. While the title “Son of God” was certainly derived from the OT (2 Sam 7: 14; Ps 2: 7), the phrase divi filius (“son of god”) was used of Augustus (referring to his adopted father Julius Caesar) and was a title taken over by other Roman emperors to underline their filial relationship to their divinized predecessors, so that this designation would also have had associations with the imperial cult for many ancients.” [Paul specifically says that there are no’Lords’ but Jesus.]
            7. Pagan sacrifices: “Since observant Jews had scruples against idolatrous practices and followed dietary laws based on the Torah, which prohibited the consumption of meat from unclean animals or even clean animals not killed in a ritually appropriate manner, Jews and Jewish Christians were naturally reluctant to eat the meat of animals sacrificed to pagan deities. While part of the victims sacrificed in Greek temples was consumed on the premises by priests and worshipers, the rest was sold to the public in the market place. The practice of eating “meat sacrificed to idols”, could refer to participation in a sacral meal in a temple or during the distribution of sacrificial meat in the course of a public religious festival, or to the practice of eating meat purchased at the marketplace but which had originally been part of a pagan sacrifice. Paul thought that when people sacrificed to idols they were really sacrificing to demons (1 Cor 10: 20), a view common in Judaism (Deut 32: 17; Ps 19: 5; Jub. 1: 11; 11: 4–6; 1 Enoch 19: 1), and even found among some pagans such as the philosopher Celsus, though for him daimones were petty deities (Origen Contra Celsum 8.24).”
            8. Pagan divination: ” In Philippi Paul exorcised a “spirit of divination, ” from a young female slave used as a fortune teller by her owners (Acts 16: 16–18.”
            9. A local Zeus/Hermes cult: “Following the narrative of the healing of a cripple at Lystra by Barnabas and Paul, the onlookers make the acclamation “The gods have come down to us in human form,” and they called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes (cf. Acts 28: 6). The priest of the local temple of Zeus then brought oxen and garlands with the intention of sacrificing to Barnabas-Zeus and Paul-Hermes. From Homer on, Greek tradition entertained the possibility that gods could disguise themselves as human beings (Iliad 24.345–47; Odyssey 1.105; 2.268; 17.485–87; Homeric Hymn to Demeter 94–97, 275–81; Plato Soph. 216b; Rep. 2.20 [381b–382c]; Silius Italicus 7.176; Ovid Metam. 8.626), though such disguises were not usually maintained very long and were generally followed by a recognition scene. Zeus and Hermes were occasionally paired since Zeus had chosen Hermes as his herald and spokesperson (Diodorus Siculus 5.75.2; Apollodorus 3.10.2; Iamblichus De Myst. 1.1). Paul was identified by the onlookers with Hermes precisely because he was the chief speaker (Acts 14: 12). The closest mythological parallel recounts how Zeus and Hermes, disguised as mortals, were barred from a thousand homes until welcomed by the aged farm couple Baucis and Philemon (Ovid Metam. 8.611–724). In Greek tradition the appearance of a deity is traditionally the occasion when divine honors are instituted, a fact which accounts for the behavior of the priest of the temple of Zeus in Acts 14: 13.” [Paul calls their gods’worthless things’]
            10. An unknown god at Athens: ” In the context of a visit to Athens narrated in Acts 17: 16–34 (a section in which the author of Luke-Acts reveals a familiarity with philosophical traditions and language), Paul visits the Areopagus and, in the manner of an ancient philosopher, directs an apologetic speech to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers present. In the introduction to this speech (the captatio benevolentiae ), he congratulates the Athenians for their piety and then refers to an altar in the vicinity with an inscription “to an unknown god,” claiming that it is this God whom he is now proclaiming to them… Pausanias reports the existence of altars to “unknown gods” (in the plural) in Athens and Olympia (Pausanias 1.1.4; 5.14.8). Important cult centers such as Athens, Olympia and Pergamon had dozens of altars to traditional Greek gods (Zeus, Athena, Hermes, etc.), to less traditional deities (e.g., Helios, “sun,” and Selene, “moon”), to abstractions (e.g., Pistis, “fidelity,” and Arete, “virtue”) and (in an attempt to be complete, i.e., to have a “precinct for altars of all gods without exception”) to “unknown gods” and (safer still) to “all the gods.” Though no inscription has been found which exactly reproduces the phraseology of Acts 17: 23, it is quite possible that such inscriptions actually existed.” [Paul specifically rejects the entire pantheon of their gods, as those who’live in temples’ and are’served by human hands’]
            11. Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19: 23–41). “In this episode (perhaps alluded to in 1 Cor 15: 32 and 2 Cor 1: 8–11), Paul’s success in proclaiming the gospel in the Roman Province of Asia is perceived as threatening the livelihood of the silver-workers guild, which made miniature silver replicas of the temple of Artemis to be sold as souvenirs or amulets (Acts 19: 24). The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the world (Strabo 14.1.20–23; Pausanias 2.2.5; 4.31; Achilles Tatius 7–8; Xenophon Eph. Ephesian Tale 1.1–3), and the city was given the title “temple-keeper” (Acts 19: 35), as a major center of the imperial cult. The acclamation “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19: 28) reflects a popular title of the goddess (Xenophon Eph. Ephesian Tale 1.11).” [The local populace knew that Paul taught’ that man-made gods are no gods at all‘, 19.26]
            12. The issue, then, is not could they, but did they. And that is what we are trying to analyze in this article. If our study of the alleged parallels don’t turn up some really’numerous, complex, detailed, striking” and “with underlying ideas” parallels, then any cases of’borrowing’ at any other time period remains irrelevant to our discussion.

              The church was never unclear in its exclusivistic message–the pagan world knew exactly what its “mission” was relative to’other gods’: “That attack was sharp and consistent. It followed from Jewish practice. Saint Paul is at pains to emphasize and control his usage, referring to’the so-called gods’,’gods that are not in their nature (gods)’; Eusebius speaks of the ‘mis-named gods’; and a triumphant champion of the church erected an inscription at Ephesus that begins,’Destroying the delusive image of the demon Artemis…'” [CRE: 18]
              “If we stop here a moment, however, to assess the various familiar ways… in which Christianity differed from the general context of opinion around it, the one point of difference that seems most salient was the antagonism inherent in it –antagonism of God toward all other supernatural powers…” [CRE: 19]

                And, judging from (a) the reported anti-syncretistic attitude of the apostolic group toward pagan elements encountered in their missionary, evangelistic, and teaching activity; (b) the current state of scholarly research/consensus against the paganism-as-source-of-NT-content position, and (c) the research done for the previous version of this article in 1997, I personally have my doubts that we are likely to surface any/much data to support borrowing in the period we are studying…but we’ll see… Secondly, although it is not really necessary to discuss this (given the evidential nature of our task here), I should point out that the post-Constantine church had a radically different set of pressures and issues on them, than did the NT church, and that much of the later’borrowings’ would be unique (and generally’reluctant’!) to that later period. So, MacMullen, in his study of exactly this–the interaction between Christianity and Paganism in the 4-8th centuries–consistently points this out [quotes are from HI: CP48C], explaining the historical process as it unfolded: 1. The conversion of Constantine’encouraged’ the rest of the Roman Empire to convert too, and this created a massive problem for the church–an influx of people with social needs previously met in pagan praxis, without a corresponding Christian equivalent: “In the opening century or two of their existence as a religious community, Christians lacked a distinctive poetry, rhetoric, drama, architecture, painting, sculpture, music, or dance–all, arts serving the older faith richly. They lacked arts of play and celebration that other faiths enjoyed. They had almost no special language of gestures or symbols in which to express their feelings or their wishes to, or regarding, the divine, such as pagans had developed…” [p.150]
                “By the turn of the fourth century, it [Christianity] could claim a substantial minority of the population in the eastern provinces though only a small minority in the west.Thereafter, as it registers more clearly in our surviving sources, an estimate of its place becomes less uncertain. It constituted perhaps as much as a half of the population by A.D 400. The figure is not likely to be far wrong; unlikely, then, that the far lower estimate for the church is wrong, either, at the moment when Constantine was converted; for rapid growth in the intervening period is quite evident. Constantine and his successors held out many new and effective inducements to join. In the course of the response, greater numbers but also a greater diversity of human types and temperaments were swept into the church, and along with them, a far greater diversity of demands and expectations. In consequence, the deficiencies noted just above began to be supplied from paganism, partly unopposed, partly against the leadership’s wishes, but necessarily, because of the numbers of newer converts and the impossibility of entirely reeducating them.” (p.151)

                “[T]he old means of satisfying them (the needs met by pagan social and artistic life) were denied or destroyed [by the Roman emperors], and the equivalent in Christianity did not exist. Unlike the forms of expression developed by communities of Christians in the first century or two of their history, those developed by non-Christian communities had had a very long time indeed to incorporate the arts and pleasures of life into worship…The remarkable diversity of cult-centered arts, activities, and psychological rewards… All these, church leadership wished converts to surrender …. Many or most converts simply could not make so great a sacrifice. It could not and did not happen.” (p.152)

                “In the nature of the case no one today can make any good guess at the depth or prevalence of the converts’ inner feelings. Only, no one can doubt that loyalties and preferences, the conscious and the unthinking, still attached them to the old ways. The bishops certainly thought so and say so often enough in both eastern and western sermons.” (p153)

                “Inflow of novelties into the church was perpetual. And why should this not be so since the period post-Constantine brought about the baptism of so many persons raised in another religious faith? Though baptized, they were nevertheless not easy to reach for more perfect instruction: they were poor and rural and hard to get at, rarely to be seen in church. Yet they counted in the tens of millions. Small wonder that the church which included them, looked at sociologically and demographically rather than theologically, underwent significant change of character in the process of taking them in.” (p144) 2. The Church leadership had to quickly respond, without prior practice or warning, and scrambled to try to’convert’ the content of the pagan practices, while maintaining the’ less theological’ elements such as art, sculpture, festivals, and dance. (Generally this involved offering a’substitute’ festival or location, but in each case the attempt was made to make it clear to the pagan that the “theological content” had radically changed): “It was religion as a time of communal rejoicing and social intercourse acted out in the company of the divine that converts were used to and could not do without …The same need forced the invention of many celebrations during the year, since Christians’ attendance at events like the Kalends proved too much for the church leadership to control except by competition …” (p.155)
                “The church calendar was thus to some considerable degree amplified (though the names of the days of the week, to be called by plain numbers, were advertised in vain). In the same way, the choice of where to build shrines for Christian worship was dictated by the location of the antecedent pagan ones. They must be challenged and resanctified, if not rather destroyed.” (p155f) [Notice how the church leadership attempted to remove the pagan elements –even the names of the days of the week!–but their attempts failed, due to the overwhelming number of people now joining the body of the church.]

                “For, when peace came after so many and such violent persecutions, crowds of pagans wishing to become Christians were prevented from doing this because of their habit of celebrating the feast days of their idols with banquets and carousing; and, since it was not easy for them to abstain from these dangerous but ancient pleasures, our ancestors thought it would be good to make a concession for the time being to their weakness and permit them, instead of the feasts they had renounced, to celebrate other feasts in honor of the holy martyrs, not with the same sacrilege, but with the same elaborateness” (Augustine Ep 29.8f…cited at p.114f; notice that part of the motivation of the leadership in trying to offer alternatives was that of sympathy and consideration for the needs of these new converts) “What he makes plain as his strategy finds an echo in Pope Gregory’s directive for the conversion of the Angles, ‘ that the shrines should not be destroyed but only the idols themselves. Let it be done with holy water sprinkled in those same shrines and let altars be built and relics be placed there so that the Angles have to change from the worship of the daemons to that of the true God ’; and thus, with the shrine intact, ‘the people will flock in their wonted way to the places they are used to.’ He goes on to note the tradition of sacral feasting for which also a direct alternative must be supplied, in the form of a festival…As to the choice of a site, to challenge directly and so far as possible to displace the past, there is a great deal of evidence for that strategy.” (p124; notice the effort to avoid the pagan aspects of this accommodation, and the attempt to de-paganize the praxis)

              3. In a very real sense, the church did not’borrow’ these pagan elements (i.e., cult of the dead, art, festivals, iconography, etc) at all; they were the suddenly-appearing-in-bulk baggage of the past that every new believer (ancient or modern) brings with them into their New Life. In the case of tens of millions of people joining the church–at various levels of sincerity, enthusiasm, education, access, and depth–there was simply nothing the leadership could do but (a) complain about it!; and (b) try to create alternate forms of these that were close-enough-to -the-practice (to meet the social needs) but far-enough-aawy-from -the-theology (to avoid creating core-belief problems), to balance out the various ethical, theological, and practical constraints in the situation. And they constantly complained about these pagan elements even as they had to find some innocent way to help these folk: “ Ecclesiastical authorities declared, while they deplored, the identity of the [grave cult] routines and their pagan character” [p154]
              “It made inevitable some bringing in of inherited rites and beliefs to the church. But influences and alternatives which their bishops might disapprove of pressed heavily on Christians from their surrounding society, too, even if they had been church members from birth.” (P117)

              “In other respects the Christian vigils seem to have been nearly identical with the pagan. Too nearly: they were sometimes condemned as immoral by church authorities, as has been seen; yet the authorities also tolerated them, having little choice, or, like the pope, actually instituting them [as oppositional alternatives].” (p124)
              “This may be the place to mention early images of Jesus, with Paul and Peter on display in places of worship — a practice, it need hardly be said, originating neither in Judaism nor in primitive Christianity. Nor did it originate among the Christian leadership. The Council of Elvira of ca. 306 forbade it inside churches. It had nevertheless become a popular element in cultic settings by the third century…” (p130)

              “Until grown familiar, however, veneration of images could hardly escape suspicion as heathen idolatry.” (p131)

              “Against all these [seers], so commonly sought out by their flock, the bishops spoke very harshly.” (p139)
              “’How many’ exclaims another Syrian voice, ‘ how many are only Christians in name but pagans in their acts …attending to pagan myths and genealogies and prophecies and astrology and drug lore …’” (P145) 4. But the important element for OUR study here, is that, amazingly , the theological content of the core beliefs of the faith did not change during this flood of pressures: “The creed that was the true heart of the Christian community in the first century or two of its existence was retained untouched by the inflow of new members after Constantine.” [p154]
              In other words, the evidence used to prove that the later church was syncretistic (and that therefore the earlier church might be also), did not apply to the core content. And so the argument of’ why would we think they were any different?‘ looses even the little psychological force that it had at first. The evidence we have about the later church shows its surprising fidelity to the’core’–in the face of incredible turbulence–and the earlier church was even more’stubborn’ in its tenacity to fidelity (e.g, the martyrs, Paul’s being voted “least likely to graciously compromise with other beliefs” by his graduating class of Rabbis–smile). And as MacMullen pointed out, the creed preserved its continuity from its inception through this overwhelming influx of’unprepared’ and needy converts. In the spectrum metaphor used by MacMullen, the creed would be at one end and the social praxis at the other end. The creed end was kept’pure’, the praxis end was transformed, and there would have been many questionable (and varying) points of compromise/alternatives in between. But since our discussion deals with the central tenets of who Jesus was–as recorded in the gospels and epistles–we would be on safer ground to doubt’borrowing’ than to

            13. suspect it.

          So, even apart from the fact that the evidence of pre-NT borrowing is just not there (our main line of investigation), even this Pushback argument casts little’doubt’ on the interpretation of the evidence.


          Another common example offered is the Mother & Child iconographic evidence. The images of Horus-the-Child on the lap of his mother Isis was certainly used by the post-Constantine church as a exemplar for the post-NT elaboration of the Mary & Child-Jesus art [TAM: 159]. We saw in the above discussion that this was done–after Constantine and therefore several centuries later than is relevant to our discussion here — as a concession to help the new converts, and done with every effort to not’confuse’ them about their new faith. Many were destroyed, and others retained for teaching purposes [HI: CP68C: 130ff]. “Objections by Christians to the use of images and pictures–icons as they were technically known–were by no means new. We have seen that pictures of Christian subjects, even of Christ himself, had been made long before the sixth century. Yet there had also been opposition to them on the ground that they smacked of paganism. In the sixth century, before his consecration a Syrian bishop denounced the veneration of the representations of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and other saints. In that same century, moreover, a bishop of Massilia (Marseilles) was reprimanded by the Pope for ordering the destruction of the images in the churches of his diocese, for that pontiff, while agreeing that they should not be adored, held that they were a valuable means of instructing illiterate Christians in the faith.” [LHC, 1: 292f] Each case would have been decided independently (and typically, with controversy among the leadership). This is interesting stuff, of course, but the late date of this phenomena means that it is not germane to our discussion here.

        The same can be seen in the use of the motif of “the Cross”. The several forms of a cross have been major symbols in world religion since humanity began, but the NT church didn’t use ANY of this symbolism ! Julien Ries in Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion , s.v. “Cross” documents the almost universal usage of some kind of cross symbol, and draws out the elements involved in the symbolism: ” Symbolism of non-Christian crosses. The extraordinary dissemination of the cross throughout many different parts of the world prior to Christianity and outside its influence is explained by the multivalence and density of its symbolic signification. It is a primordial symbol related to three other basic symbols: the center, the circle, and the square…By the intersection of its two straight lines, which coincides with the center, it opens this center up to the outside, it divides the circle into four parts, it engenders the square. In the symbolism of the cross, we will limit ourselves to four essential elements: the tree, the number four, weaving, and navigation…In the eyes of primordial man, the tree represents power. It evokes verticality. It achieves communication between the three levels of the cosmos: subterranean space, earth, and sky.” (p.158).”Anyone familiar with NT usage of the images of cross and crucifixion will note the obvious: there is nothing remotely similar between the symbolism of the cross in the words of Jesus (i.e., of death to self) and the words of the apostles (e.g., judgment on sin, example of resignation to God’s will) and the “essential” elements of “the number four, weaving, and navigation”, and there is nothing remotely similar with the NT usage of the word/image of’tree’ (e.g., place and means of execution, place of God’s cursing) and “power, verticality, or communication”…The geometry of the place of Christ’s death (i.e., the shape of the cross) is never evoked, commented on, or’exegeted’ for this meaning in the NT. The parallel is simply not there, and this seems like another case of’ no parallel underlying idea’ again. [Note, however, that AFTER the NT, some of the Church Fathers began to use the Cross in more “symbolic ways–cf. Ries’s article, pp.163ff–but this wouldn’t apply to NT usage and the words of Jesus.]

        Let me make sure this last point is clear…The NT does not make the cross central — as a symbol –in its proclamation; rather, it makes Jesus who died for humanity’s sin and who was raised from the dead its central proclamation. The centrality of the apostolic message was on Jesus, on his sacrificial death, and on the significance of that death for the possibility of New Life and a New Future for us. The’cross’ aspect–for them–was in its element of shame , and not an evocative symbol of religious’power’.

        And historically, the negative implication and imagery associated with the act of crucifixion at that time vastly outweighed any’evangelistic value’ any more general symbolic associations with a cross-shape might have had. The cross of Jesus was weakness, folly, madness, scandal in that world: “to assert that God himself accepted death in the form of a crucified Jewish manual worker from Galilee in order to break the power of death and bring salvation to all men could only seem folly and madness to men of ancient times ” [Crux: 89]”The crucifixion of Jesus, attested by the first generation of Christians, lies at the heart of the Fathers’ theology and early church teaching. However, the image of a god abandoned to a shameful punishment and nailed on a cross was not likely to arouse enthusiasm. On the contrary, such an image created serious difficulties in the eyes of the pagans, who were unable to resolve the apparent contradiction of a crucified god who in so dying became a savior.” [Ries, p.161; notice, btw, that the copycat advocate has to maintain, on the contrary , that this’contradiction’ was NOT a problem for the pagans–that they in fact celebrated it in all their mystery religions and their myths…]

        “In his important survey of the treatment of crucifixion in ancient literature, Hengel queries whether, outside early Christianity, death by crucifixion was ever interpreted in a positive manner. Within the Gentile world, he finds in Stoicism the use of crucifixion as a metaphor “… for the suffering from which the wise man can free himself only by death, which delivers the soul from the body to which it is tied” (Hengel 1977, 88; cf. pp. 64–68). However, beyond this the cruelty of the cross seems to have forbidden any positive interpretation or metaphorical use of death by crucifixion… If this was true for the Gentile world, it was even more so for the Jewish. Inasmuch as the use of crucifixion by the Romans as a deterrent against Jewish nationalism was widespread, we might have anticipated that the cross would come to serve as a symbol for martyrdom. However, in addition to the humiliation and brutality associated with this form of execution, for Jews an additional, profoundly religious, obstacle existed…Already by the time of the first century A.D., the victim of crucifixion was understood in terms of Deuteronomy 21: 22–23—specifically, “anyone who is hung on a tree is under the curse of God.” In its own context, this passage refers to the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. But the NT gives evidence that this meaning was expanded considerably within the early church to include persons who had been crucified. This is seen in the verbal allusions to Deuteronomy 21: 22–23 (e.g., Acts 5: 30; 13: 29; 1 Pet 2: 24) and Paul’s explicit citation of Deuteronomy 21: 23 in Galatians 3: 13. Apart from and prior to Christianity, evidence from the Qumran literature (4QpNah 3–4.1.7–8; 11QTemple 64: 6–13) as well as from the writings of the first-century Alexandrian Jew Philo (Spec. Leg. 3.152; Post C. 61; Somn. 2.213) attests that victims of crucifixion could be understood this way within Judaism. Thus, the cross could not be interpreted positively as a symbol of the Jewish resistance.” [NT: DictJG, s.v. “Death of Jesus”]

        The implications should be clear: the negative associations of crucifixion would have precluded the apostolic group from trying to use the Cross as a’symbol of superstitious significance’ in their evangelism, teaching, and writings. Both to the Romans and to the Jews of that time , the image of the Cross was a significantly negative one , and one that would not in any way contribute to the winning over of pagan people to the message of Jesus. This negative imagery would have been consistent throughout the Greco-Roman world of the time– anywhere Roman crucifixion was used as a means of execution. [BTW, this negative association with the image of the cross is one of the reasons NT scholars are convinced that Jesus’ own words about the cross must be authentic–in the culture of the day, the early church would not have’made that up’ because it would have been so negatively understood by pagan and Jew alike. (The technical name for this NT principle is the “criterion of embarrassment”–the church would be unlikely to make up embarrassing sayings and put them on the lips of Jesus.)

        Consideration: It must be remembered that SOME general similar traits of leadership MUST apply to any religious leader. They must generally be good leaders, do noteworthy feats of goodness and/or supernatural power, establish teachings and traditions, create community rituals, and overcome some forms of evil. These are common elements of the religious life–NOT objects that require some theory of dependence. [For example, the fact that that Aztec divine heroes were said to have done wonders similar to those from Asia Minor doesn’t necessitate us coming up with a theory of how one of these religions’borrowed’ from the other…smile.] In our case, to argue that since Jesus allegedly did miracles and so did the earlier figure of Krishna, the Jesus’legend’ must have borrowed from the Krishna’legend’ is simply fallacious. The common aspect of homo religiosus is an adequate and more plausible explanation than dependence, in such cases. Consideration: Closely related to the above is the use of common religious language and symbols. As CMM:

          160 notes (in studying parallels between John 1 and the Mandean cult):

          “Words such as light, darkness, life, death, spirit, word, love, believing, water, bread, clean, birth, and children of God can be found in almost any religion. Frequently they have very different referents as one moves from religion to religion, but the vocabulary is a popular as religion itself. Nowhere, perhaps, has the importance of this phenomenon been more clearly set forth than in a little-known essay by Kysar. He compares the studies of Dodd and Bultmann on the prologue (John 1.1-18), noting in particular the list of possible parallels each of the two scholars draws up to every conceivable phrase in those verses. Dodd and Bultmann each advance over three hundred parallels, but the overlap in the lists is only 7 percent. The dangers of what Sandmel calls parallelomania become depressingly obvious.”

          Parallelomania has been described as “the associative linking of similar words, phrases, patterns, thoughts, or themes, in order to claim the influence or dependence of one text or tradition on another. Many of the earlier studies using rabbinic sources were based on isolated and superficial

        • similarities in very dissimilar texts.” [Sounds a lot like our criterion of’underlying ideas’ and’complex structures’.] The need for caution (as noted already many, many times) is highlighted when we move into the area of religious-oriented language and ideas: “Even though the reader is less likely to explore the NT writers’ appropriation of pagan sources than their reliance on the OT or Judaistic texts, a word of caution is in order. Whether one is analyzing classical texts that circulated in the Hellenistic world, texts from the Hebrew Bible or rabbinic parallels that surface in the NT, a common temptation accompanies the examination of ancient sources. Superficial but erroneous parallels that appear to illuminate the NT might be discovered by unconsciously importing contemporary cultural assumptions into the world of antiquity. Texts that are alien to the NT are to be understood in their own terms and not apart from their literary environment. The tendency of the modern reader may be to describe source and derivation “as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction” (Sandmel, 1). The cautionary reminders of D. E. Aune and F.W. Danker need restatement: there exists the perennial danger that those whose primary interest is early Christian literature will “ seize only the more easily portable valuables found in random raids on ancient texts ” (Aune 1988, ii); those who have explored the labyrinth of Greco-Roman studies will be familiar with the hazards that await the enthusiastic but unwary seeker (Danker, 7).” [HI: DictNTB, s.v. “Pagan sources in the New Testament”] As we noted in our initial discussion of criteria, the issue is not one of what individual words, symbols, or motifs are used, but rather (a) the underlying concepts and systems of concepts; (b) the intensity of the parallels (e.g., numerous, complex, detailed); and (c) the’unexpectedness’ of the parallels.

        So, to say that Horus was called the “Son of the Father” or that the Iranian version of Mit(h)ra was called the “Light of the World” or that Krishna was called a “Shepherd God” is not saying very much at all. Each case would need to be examined more closely, to see if the underlying concepts suggested’striking’ parallels. Many of these generic religious terms just cannot carry much weight in supporting a theory of borrowing. And, again, we would have to determine the’most probable source’ for the individual term.

        For example, take the’ Light of the World‘ title. In the case of Jesus, it is significantly more likely (noted in detail earlier) that this came from the Jewish background than from a non-Jewish one: ” Jewish literature was generous with the title “light of the world, ” applying it to Israel, Jerusalem, the patriarchs, the Messiah, God, famous rabbis and the law (cf. 1: 4–5); but always it refers to something of ultimate significance. One of the most spectacular celebrations of the Feast of Tabernacles involved torches that lit up the city; this feast, along with Hanukkah (10: 22), was thus known for splendid lighting. That Jesus offers his light to the whole world, to all the nations, may suggest an allusion to Isaiah 42: 6. [BBC, at John 8.12]
        Or take the phrase “ Shepherd God “…Not only was Jesus never actually called this exactly (He is called the good Shepherd, the great Shepherd, the chief Shepherd), but this is a perfect example of the “underlying idea” criteria, for’shepherd’ had different underlying meanings for Krishna and for Jesus.

        For Krishna, the reference to Shepherd God was to highlight his background– he actually was a shepherd (or cow-herd, actually). But in Jesus’ case (who never actually worked at shepherding–He was a carpenter by trade) the term refers to his Davidic lineage of messianic royalty –a HUGE conceptual “underlying” difference: “It is based on Old Testament images of God as the shepherd of Israel (Gen 48: 15; 49: 24; Ps 23: 1; 28: 9; 77: 20; 98: 71; Is 40: 11; Ezek 34: 11–31), of Israel as his flock (Ps 74: 1; 78: 52; 79: 13; 100: 3) and of abusive or unfaithful religious leaders as destroyers of his flock (Jer 23: 1–2; Ezek 34). Faithful human shepherds (Jer 3: 15) included Moses, David (2 Sam 5: 2; Ps 78: 71–72) and the Davidic Messiah (Mic 5: 4). [BBC, at John 10]

        “Fundamentally it is a parable rather than an allegory; nevertheless it has within it features that recall to any Jew a wealth of biblical associations that make certain applications of imagery almost inevitable. Four elements in its background may be distinguished. (i) Of the many relevant OT passages the polemical discourse in Ezekiel 34 is outstanding; Israel’s leaders are condemned for neglecting the sheep, lot slaughtering them and leaving them as prey to the wild beasts; the Lord declares that he will be their Shepherd, that he will gather his scattered sheep and pasture them on the mountains of Israel, and set over them as shepherd “my servant David,” i.e., the Messiah. (ii) The use of the imagery of shepherd and sheep in the synoptic teaching of Jesus is inevitably recalled, especially the parable of lite [sic] one lost sheep, which depicts the care of God to the lost and justifies Jesus’ seeking them (Luke 15: 1–7; Matt 18: 12–14), and Mark 14: 27, which links the death and resurrection of Jesus the shepherd with Zech 13: 7–9.” [WBC, at John 10]
        And the phrase “ Son of the Father ” (of Horus) was simply too common/general a title in a world of very’sexually active’ Greco-Roman gods…nothing striking about divine paternity in the ancient world at all. Even slightly more specific titles, such as “Corn Mother” might be too general–it is found in Eurasian, Germanic, and Native American cultures (not that easy to prove/assume’borrowing’ between…smile) [see discussions in HI: FG: 45-47 (and index) and WR: MNNA ].

        Consideration: But there is a more fundamental issue/question here, in dealing with “religious language”– who “owns” it, that it needs to be “borrowed”? Religious terms and concepts like god, divinity, savior, salvation, life, sin, impurity, afterlife, faith, etc are shared vocabularies within a culture. They are not’owned’ by pre-Christian pagan religions, any more than they were’owned’ by pre-Christian Judaism. Paul is not’borrowing’ anything from Judaism when calls Jesus the “Messiah”, nor is he’borrowing’ anything from paganism when he calls him Lord (kurios). Religious language–at the generic level used in the NT–is a shared linguistic asset, and not something “copyrighted” by pagan thought.

      And, as with all users of a language, the speaker will often have to’qualify’ their use of the term to avoid confusion on the part of the listeners–Christian or not. Shared categories of language and concepts require that from all “sides”. The Mystery Religions, for example, had to’qualify’ their use of the term’salvation’ sometimes–when talking to their more’conservative’ pagan neighbors. NeoPlatonists had to do the same, as did the later Gnostics, and the earlier pagan monotheists. They were not’borrowing’ from their audiences, they were simply explaining themselves via shared vocabulary and language conventions.

      Likewise, when the early Christians used language shared with their “pagan” neighbors (as the movement spread into the Gentile community), they had to explain how their terminology was’different’ from their varying-by-location audiences. There is nothing’odd’ or’shady’ or’sinister’ about this practice–this is a basic feature of conceptual communication. EVERYBODY has to do this…Aristotle pointed out long ago that to understand something you have to first place it in its’class or group’, and then learn how it differed from the other items in that class…This is how we communicate ordinary matters to one another, and it is no different for religious terms and concepts.
      For example, the Christian had to use the two’shared’ categories of deity at the time to’start the conversation’:

      “It has not been our intention to oversimplify what is in fact an extremely complex subject, namely, the ways in which ancient Mediterranean peoples conceived of their Savior Gods. Nevertheless, during the Hellenistic-Roman period (300 B.C.E.-200 C.E.) there seems to have been a definite pattern across many cultural boundaries regarding certain Gods, who were consistently called “Saviors.” They seem to have been of two types. One was the divine/ human offspring of a sexual union between a God(dess) and a human, who was rewarded with immortality for her or his many benefactions. The second type was the temporary manifestation in adult human form of one of the great, immortal Gods, who came into the human world to save a city or nation or the whole civilized world. We have called these, for lack of better labels, the demigod type and the incarnation type . One thing is certain. Justin Martyr had good reason for saying that Christians did not claim anything about their Savior God beyond what the Greeks said about theirs. [DSG: 15-16]

      And then they had to’differentiate’ their specific usage by additional details, and by additional’negations'(!):

      “However, it has not been our intention to oversimplify in the other direction either, that is, by glossing over or ignoring the manifold ways in which Christianity stood out as a unique and unusual religion in its time. If Christians utilized familiar concepts and terms in order to communicate their faith, they made two significant changes to them. First of all, they used them in an exclusivist sense. When they proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the Savior of the world, it carried with it a powerful negation: “Neither Caesar, nor Asklepios, nor Herakles, nor Dionysos, nor Ptolemy, nor any other God is the Savior of the world–only Jesus Christ is!”…”The apologists devoted much time to explaining that the gods of paganism were demons or dead men or did not exist ” [GASC: 31; and so they’borrowed these concepts from them”?!]

      And the pagan (and Jewish) audiences understood exactly what the Christian content was –and the result was shock, unbelief, and eventually, persecution as’atheists’:

      “Second, if the Christians took over many basic concepts and ideas from their cultures [notice: not’from the pagan religions’]–and how could they do otherwise–they nevertheless filled them with such new meaning that their contemporaries were often mystified and even violently repelled by what they heard. The same Justin Martyr who was conscious of the similarities also said:

      “People think we are insane when we name a crucified man as second in rank after the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all things, for they do not discern the mystery involved.” ( Apol. 1.13; lest we mis-understand Justin’s use of “man” here, let me simply note that Justin is very clear on the deity of Christ as well as his humanity–cf. GASC: 60-63)

      “The Apostle Paul had also experienced the painful rejection of his so-called’good news’: his Jewish kinsmen considered it an abhorrent blasphemy, while his Greek listeners thought it utter foolishness. Nevertheless, this did not prevent him or other Christians from continuing to use– and break up and reshape into new meaning–all of the familiar concepts and well-known categories in their attempts to communicate something new, something radically unfamiliar, which had been revealed to them by their God through his Son Jesus Christ, about the whole divine-human relationship.” [DSG: 15-16; notice, btw, that something’radically unfamiliar’ cannot be something’borrowed without major modification’…]”One of the traits of their religion which Christians emphasized from the first was that it was a revolt’against the old ways.’ To pagans the most startling way in which the novelty of Christianity appeared was in its substitution of new ideals for old…” [CAP: 17]

      A great example of this pagan-clarity would be the brilliant skeptic Celsus, who saw the unique Christian content very clearly: “Celsus obviously knew Christianity at first hand, and as a skilled polemicist his portrait of the Christian movement is detailed and concrete. He has a keen eye for Christianity’s most vulnerable points and the wit to exploit them for a laugh” [CRST: 95]
      “However, it is clear from a closer reading of Celsus’s work that he recognized, as did Galen, that Christianity had set forth some new and original religious teachings, and these are the chief target of his polemic.” [CRST: 102; note that he was not’confused’ by their terminology, but understood quite clearly the differences in how the’words’ were used.]

      His first target was the Incarnation, as a new idea: “The first is the Christian claim that God came down from the heavens to live on earth among men. This assertion, says Celsus’is most shameful and no lengthy argument is required to refute it'” [CRST: 102; note that Celsus doesn’t understand the Incarnation as something similar to pagan theophanies, etc.]

      His second target was the resurrection, as a new idea: “His more serious criticism, however, is directed against the idea that God could reverse the natural process of the disintegration of the human body, or that a body that had rotten could be restored again…As Origen observed, Celsus’often reproached us about the resurrection’, suggesting that pagan critics realized that the resurrection was one of the central and distinctive of Christian doctrines.” [CRST: 104; note that the pagans recognized the difference between Christian usage of’resurrection’ and their own pagan uses of the same word…there was no confusion here as to what the Message was.]

        The shared linguistic base and cultural base was more than adequate for the New Testament authors to be able to express distinctive Christian content, and this communication was generally understood by their audiences both Jewish and pagan. The Christians were often confused (in the first generation) with the Jews , but never with the Mithraists (e.g., the Mithraists were not fed to the lions, nor used as human torches by an emperor…for a sect who allegedly borrowed so much from these’welcomed’ mystery cults, it certainly didn’t blend it very well, in the eyes of those in power…).

      Consideration: We also have a special problem in the religions of antiquity, the problem of syncretism. The vast majority of the pre-modern world was syncretistic, meaning that one religion would often incorporate the myth and ritual of other cults with which it came in contact. Often the deities would simply change names. In the ANE, Western Semites adopted deities from the Sumerian pantheon and Israel took up the pagan Canaanite cult. Closer to NT times, we see the Greek colonists at Ephesus “adopt” the goddess of the natives (e.g. The Great Mother) and call her by THEIR name “Artemis” ( ZPEB, s.v. “Ephesus”). In some cases, deities would’merge’ into one. [Christianity, as we have noted often, was the opposite –it was not’ inclusivistic‘, but’ exclusivistic‘–it would not’merge’ with anything. It was completely out-of-synch with the age and culture of the day. And hence, it was understood as such–and attacked by the powers and elites.] The problem this creates for us is that we will sometimes be comparing Jesus (one individual in the NT) to the combined characteristics of multiple agents that are all called by the SAME NAME. For example, “Horus” applies to several DIFFERENT deities in the multi-threaded Egyptian religion [see Lesko, in EOR: s.v. “Horus”]. Horus literally has some TEN to TWENTY different names/versions/forms, some of which are: “Horus-the-Child” (Egyptian), Harpokrates, Harsomtus, Horus (as king), Harsiese, Horus-Yun-Mutef, Harendote Harakhti, Horus of Behdet, Harmachis, and several local versions (Nekhen, Mesen, Khenty-irty, Baki, Buhen, Miam) [EGG: 87-96]. All of these have slightly different characteristics and legends–esp. with the wide variation between Horus the King and Horus the Sun-God: “There are several manifestations of Horus, which tend to overlap, and the problem of disentangling them is not always easy, as Horus may well have been the name of a whole series of pre-dynastic rulers or priests. Another difficulty arises from the habit of the Egyptians of combining two or three gods into dyadic or triune deities, which was frequently done with Amon, Horus, Osiris, Ptah, and Re.” [WR: WWNCM, s.v. “Horus”] When one glups together the diverse characteristics of a dozen deities, one is bound to come up with overlap with the true God! We have the same problem with Mitra–he is a mixture of Iranian, Greek, and Roman cults; Buddha–he is a mixture of various strands of “later” developing biographical tradition; Krishna fares the same–it is difficult to separate the pieces of legends that belong to Vasudeva Krsna and those which belong to Krsna Gopala [EOR: s.v. “Krsna”, p.385].

      • In the case of the specific question above, the impact of this issue can be seen quite readily. The questioner makes the comment that Roman Mithraism predates Jesus. As we shall see, only Iranian mithraism predates Jesus, and Roman Mithraism–which shares ONLY its name with the other!–does NOT predate Jesus in any relevant sense.

      Consideration: Related to the above is the fact that we must compare the core -Jesus with a core -Other-Deity. [This was part of the initial criterion of’structure’ or’system’.] In other words, in religions of antiquity, legends about deities would grow and develop along different paths in different parts of a geography. Hence, the legends of Horus in Northern Egypt would be different than the legends of Horus in Southern Egypt. What this forces us to do is to compare like with like. We will need to confine our description of a deity to either all the characteristics of that deity IN A SPECIFIC LOCALITY or confine our description to the common elements across ALL locations. Osiris was considered the brother of Seth in some traditions, and the father of Seth in others. We cannot combine the two meaningfully (for any number of reasons) in comparing the historical image we have in the NT of Jesus Christ. Consideration: We must also be careful to focus on the critical and radical similarities, not the incidental ones. [This was one of the criteria we surfaced at the beginning of the piece–the criterion of ” central features “.] The Christian message about Jesus centered on His Lordship over all creation, His voluntary and sacrificial death, His physical resurrection, and His fulfillment of a stream of OT prophetic prediction (as means to identify Him and as means to fulfill the plan of God in salvation history). “Incidental” elements might include (but the issue of fulfilled prophecy might counter this by making the’incidentals’ into’requirements’) the number of the original disciples (although that might be keyed to the twelve tribes of Israel), how long He stayed dead before the Resurrection, His ministry in Galilee, His birthplace, and even His virgin conception/birth. Consideration: A final consideration on data sources and methods concerns not overstepping the evidence. Much of our data about the mystery cults (esp. Mithra) comes from iconographic data–pictures and carvings on walls. Without some textual material to guide us, the interpretation of that material must necessarily be tenuous. So the cautionary words of Barrett [ NTB:


        “The evidence upon which our knowledge of the so-called mystery religions rests is for the most part fragmentary and by no means easy to interpret. Very much of it consists of single lines and passing allusions in ancient authors (many of whom were either bound to secrecy or inspired with loathing with regard to the subject of which they were treating), inscriptions (many of them incomplete), and artistic and other objects discovered by archaeologists.”

        An example of where this would apply to our study can be seen in the grossly out-dated (but, AMAZINGLY, still widely cited by skeptics) work of The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors by Kersey Graves. The chapter in which he identifies these’saviors’ (some of whom will be discussed below) is dependent TOTALLY on a secondary source (without citations often) that itself is based almost TOTALLY on interpretations of iconographic data. And these interpretations were made 150 years ago, without the benefit of the virtual explosion of knowledge in comparative religion, cognitive archaeology, and ANE thought, and without the scholarly’control’ of even slightly later works (such as Budge, GOE). Graves identifies 16 of these’crucified Saviors’ whereas modern scholarship, working on a much broader base of literary and archeological data, disagrees. So, Martin Hengel, in the standard work of the day [Crux: 5-7, 11]:

        “True, the Hellenistic world was familiar with the death and apotheosis of some predominantly barbarian [ as judged by the ancient authors themselves ] demigods and heroes of primeval times. Attis and Adonis were killed by a wild boar, Osiris was torn to pieces by Typhon-Seth and Dionysus-Zagreus by the Titans. Heracles alone of the’Greeks’ voluntarily immolated himself of Mount Oeta. However, not only did all this take place in the darkest and most distant past, but it was narrated in questionable [ note: to the ancients ] myths which had to be interpreted either euhemeristically or at least allegorically [ by the Graeco-Romans ]. By contrast, to believe that the one pre-existent Son of the one true God, the mediator at creation and the redeemer of the world, had appeared in very recent times in out-of-the-way Galilee as a member of the obscure people of the Jews, and even worse, had died the death of a common criminal on the cross, could only be regarded as a sign of madness… The only possibility of something like a’crucified god’ appearing on the periphery of the ancient world was in the form of a malicious parody, intended to mock the arbitrariness and wickedness of the father of the gods on Olympus, who had now become obsolete. This happens in the dialogue called Prometheus , written by Lucian, the Voltaire of antiquity.”

          The point should be clear: perhaps there was not enough data when Graves wrote, but there is now–and Jesus of Nazareth starkly stands out as unique in His manner and purpose of death, among claimants to “all authority in heaven and earth”! (cf. Matt 28.18) Most of the observed’similarities’ are explained by the above considerations, but let’s go ahead and probe a litte farther.
          These alleged “identicalities” generally attempt to identify Jesus with deities within a couple of categories (which have some overlap).

          First there are the “Dying and Rising Gods” (e.g. Adonis, Baal (and Hadad), Marduk, Osiris, Tammuz/Dumuzi, Melquart, Eshmun), popularized in James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough [WR: GB]

          Secondly are the figures in the Mystery Religions (e.g. Mithra, Dionysos, Hellenistic period Isis/Osirus).

          Third, there are the more “major players” (e.g. Buddha, Krishna)

          1. Finally are the figures that are allegedly linked by broader motifs such as’miracle worker’,’savior’ or’virgin born’– heroes and divine men — without an explicit death/resurrection notion (e.g. Indra, Thor, Horus?)

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.