Beyond Tradition

Jesus, Dionysus, Mithra, and Horus' Excellent Adventures

 by Sean D. Harmon

 
Technically any ancient tradition of purification involving water could be described as a "baptism." Any pagan iconographic sculptures depicting food and beverage could be characterized as a "Eucharist" (Last Supper). Any tradition involving an unusual birth of a pagan deity could be framed as a "virgin birth," and any deity related to the agricultural or cosmological cycle could be twisted into examples of "saviors" who die and rise again, particularly if these images are based on interpretations not from written texts but carved artifacts (more on that in a bit). I have personally -- and I've researched every side of this issue -- yet to see a myth purported as having a ridiculous number of similarities to Christianity, such as Mithraism or Horus, incapable of having most of those similarities debunked as half-truths, distorted exaggerations, or just outright bogus assertions.

It’s also interesting to note that no skeptic of Christianity prior to the 18th century, including outspoken Greek skeptics like Celsus or Porphyry who lived in the actual era these mystery religions and Greek deities thrived brought up any of these accusations or made these comparisons. In fact, Celsus scoffed at the "Jesus cult" for its inferiority and aberrant digression from the conventional cults of his time. That might perhaps tell us that the modern skeptics of today are simply either wrong or deceptively making these claimed comparisons. Though Justin Martyr's explanation was that Christ was imitated by demons that foresaw his appearance through Old Testament prophecies told about a coming messiah and thus emulated these prophecies beforehand through the Greco-Roman mystery religions, the point he was clearly making was that their emulations were off the mark because most of the things he described were not quite duplicated accurately.[1]

By far the biggest claim to date, especially on the Internet, is the comparison between Jesus and Horus. The Jesus-Horus connection was taken from work done around the 19th century by Gerald Massey, Godfrey Higgins and Kersey Graves, and modern Jesus-mythicist proponents like Acharya S (D. M. Murdock), Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy pretty much rehash the same research with a little more supplemental, contemporary, and revised material added (and if you come across any arguments of this Jesus-myth theory, if the one making the argument even bothers to list their sources, chances are certain that they will list either one of these six names here, particularly the former three when it comes to Horus). Here's a quote from Massey taken from Acharya's latest book…

 

"Christianity began as Gnosticism, refaced with falsehoods concerning a series of facts alleged to have been historical, but which are demonstrably mythical. By which I do not mean mythical as exaggerations or perversions of historic truth, but belonging to the pre-extant Mythos."[2]

 

Not only did Massey make the absurd connection of Christianity to Gnosticism, a 19th century theory that has since been debunked, but that there is no historicity whatsoever in Christian origins other than myth. It becomes clear when comparing the theology of the gospels and the epistles that early Christianity had no relation to gnostic theology, a theology that had clearly infiltrated Christianity in the second century, and where there is absence of this in the New Testament first century sources, we see the explosion of data for this from second and third century sources (i.e. diverse apocryphal material, church father discussions and refutations, etc.).[3] John Barclay states...

 

"Kasemann’s solution comes from an era when German scholarship was convinced of the presence and influence of a fully developed pre-Christian Gnosticism, complete with its own redeemer myth. Since the 1950s that thesis has fallen on hard times, not least because the sources on which it depended do not prove the existence of a pre-Christian Gnostic Redeemer figure. In fact, Kasemann himself soon abandoned talk of Gnostic cosmic forces and interpreted early Christianity more in relation to Jewish apocalyptic theology."

 

New Testament theology also does not reflect paganism, but Judaism. Even the virgin birth is saturated with Judaic elements that I discussed in detail in another article (discussed in Part II). Most scholars argue that the gospels are indeed rooted in mainstream Judaism.[4] There aren't too many scholars today that would make such a claim as to dismiss the entire historicity of Judeo-Christianity and expect to be taken seriously. Massey mixed his studies with a high degree of astrology, which needless to say is a field that is highly questionable and subjective in and of itself, and to get an idea how non-credible it really is, Mike Licona gives a rather detailed analysis breakdown of what it entails.[5]

Since contemporary atheists like Acharya base most of their claims not only on astrological premises, but on 19th century mythicists like Massey that are completely removed from the archeological discoveries and scholarship analysis of our modern times, they're essentially basing their arguments on theories that are not only outdated but were never really proven when they were proposed even during its conception in the 19th century. In other words, though the Jesus-myth was never really taken seriously even in the height of its popularity, the mythos-Jesus connection worked best when historical findings and sources were scarce, and scholars presenting extensive and detailed arguments in support of the Jewishness that saturates Judeo-Christian tradition weren't as abundant.

Since the Jesus-mythicists are die-hards for the theory, however, what better subject to use this methodology than the Nativity story, a story that has already been concluded didn't happen by most moderns, and a story they can easily isolate from the rest of the New Testament traditions in order to assert comparisons made with other religions about virgin born gods in the pagan lands. The list of their comparisons between Christianity and mystery religions are truly astounding, and these comparisons are duplicated over and over on Internet discussion boards, skeptic sites and even published books; yet with a little research and digging, it becomes quite apparent that it's basically just a never ending chain of copied misinformation from one source to another. Not only do these lists rarely come with even the source reference they were copied from, but they hardly ever -- with a few rare exceptions -- display the original sources themselves. By sources I don't mean Massey, Higgins, Graves (who are the only primary sources cited by the current Jesus-mythicists) but the actual sources that represent the religious hieroglyphs or citations -- a manuscript, a quoted scripture, an artifact, a photograph of an archeological site, something where these people claim to have found these numerous comparisons.

 
Osiris, Isis, Horus

When it comes to idol worship and gods of the foreign lands, Egyptian culture and iconography was especially detestable to the first century Jew, considering the bad historical and cultural blood the two cultures shared between them, so to assume first century second Temple Jews were influenced by Egyptian deities is quite a stretch of the imagination (see Isaiah 19:1-16, 30:1-3; Ezekiel 23:25-27, 29:2-12, 30:1-19; Zachariah 10:10-11). Mythicists often tout how much older these religions are than Christianity when in fact this doesn't have much relevance until it can first be proven that the iconography of the religion was even known in Judea. Though Jerusalem was but a few hundred miles of the northern tip of Egypt, even if a Jew did happen upon some ancient Egyptian carving or image, would they have even been able to interpret its meaning? Because there are definite traces of Isis iconography in the Greco-Roman world, the Osiris, Isis, Horus trio was picked by Massey, Higgins and Graves who were obviously trained and experienced enough to acknowledge the historical externals (or point of contact, which was discussed in Part II) that is needed to be established first and foremost to make any claims of similarities relevant and plausible. However, because Egyptian deities infused into Greek deities, the connections as to which rituals were practiced in Egypt, in comparison to the practices that were imported into the various mystery cults of the Greco-Roman world are diverse and convoluted. Elizabeth McCabe states about the "savior" status of Isis

 
"While some discussion of Isis exists on an archaeological level, archaeologists (such as Witt) are often at a loss to successfully incorporate their evidence with the New Testament."[6]

 

As if this wasn't enough for us to stop and pause, the so-called comparisons themselves are suspect, and the interesting thing about the trio Osiris, Isis and Horus is that mythicists seem to be undecided which one influenced the story of Jesus. It appears that they pick select versions from each, including other various gods and goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon or simply combine everything together into one amalgamated soup when making these comparisons (often times including gods and goddesses of entirely different cultures like Mithras, Dionysus, etc. -- where they sit fit) which is certainly not surprising, since one can always find at least some comparisons with a number of combined religious doctrines.

The Egyptian god Horus is typically portrayed as a falcon on iconographic images (Fig on the left), and as far as his birth, there are a few versions of conception, and in each case, Isis, the mother of Horus, either somehow copulates with Osiris' (Horus' dad) reassembled corpse, or draws from Osiris' postmortem body his "essence," thus from both accounts, Hours is conceived. In the former story, which is the predominant one, Osiris is chopped up into pieces, and when Isis reassembles the body parts, she must attach a prosthetic penis because she cannot find the original, or in some cases she somehow regenerates the penis herself (sometimes portrayed with wings, hovering or sitting on a phallus).[7] A miraculous birth? Since Osiris is postmortem -- yes. A virgin birth? No. But there were plenty of demigods who were born miraculously, so there's nothing unique or exceptional here. Moreover, even in the case of Hours, the postmortem birth itself is in question. According to Plutarch, in yet another version of the birth, Osiris and Isis were actually twins and lovers who had copulated within the very womb, and Isis may have lost her virginity before she was even born…

 
"But Isis and Osiris were enamoured of each other and consorted together in the darkness of the womb before their birth. Some say that Arueris came from this union and was called the elder Horus by the Egyptians, but Apollo by the Greeks."
[8]

 
The closest description from the New Testament we get about Mary's impregnation is from Luke (1:35) who states that she was "overshadowed" by the "power of the Most High" through the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for "power" Luke uses is dynamis, and was the same word that Judeo-Christians declared was the catalyst of Jesus' miracles (Matthew 11:20; Mark 9:39; Acts 8:13), was the power that resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 6:14), and was the same power that generates salvation (translated as "authority" in Matthew -- Matthew 9:6; Romans 1:16). Mary had intercourse with no one, nor was there any phallic symbol or dramatic reproductive or sexual connotations that always characterized pagan miracle births, including that of Horus. It would appear from some of the claims that the triad Osiris (Father), Isis (Mother) Horus (Son) represents the Christian Trinity. This combination seems necessary, at least in the birth scenario of Horus, because the Christian Trinity represents "Father, Son, Holy Spirit," not "Father, Mother, Son." However, there was no Egyptian triad in actuality. There were no fewer than nine Egyptian deities, gods and goddesses with variations between them, often having multiple names, titles, functions, status and even infusions in some cases.[9]

The Sun-God Re was one of the top-dogs in Egyptian culture, not necessarily Osiris, who was actually his offspring, though the two may have become assimilated later on.10] Nut was the mother-sky goddess who sometimes ruled them all, even Re, whom she "consumed from dust to dawn."[11] So these unionized divine-combinations are obviously subjective, flexible, inconsistent and alternated according to how the comparison to Jesus is needed to make it fit. The earth god Seb is sometimes claimed to be the inspiration for Jesus' foster dad Joseph (Jo-seph = seb, get it?); yet the name Joseph was a Hebrew name and a very popular one in the first century (whether the ancient Hebrews themselves derived it from Egyptian culture thousands of years prior is obviously of no relevance here). In spite of this, however, Seb may not have even been his authentic name anyway who had other variations such as 'Geb' or 'Keb.' Seb was also the husband of the sky goddess Nut, not Isis (might have even been Isis' father),[12] and whether he actually "fostered" Horus remains a highly doubtful claim, a claim of Massey with no tangible evidence offered to back it. Yet whether he did or not, the comparisons themselves as we pointed out are so absurd it's not necessary to even expound on. Once again, the Egyptians were polytheists and the gods and goddesses were not at all static or consistent, often replaced, infused, assimilated, with ever-changing variations, forms, names, functions and titles, leaving one to wonder that even if we assume Jews were willing to immerse themselves in detestable Egyptian idolatry, just how the Jews were even able to decipher such doctrine -- if it was in fact even available to them -- and how one could precisely determine this.

There may arguably have been influences in regards to the Madonna image, or iconographic images of adoration and worship between pre-Christian Egyptian monuments of the pharaonic and later periods that Christians in the subsequent centuries borrowed and implemented on sarcophagi, catacomb drawings, paintings and sculptures (that is, if some of these aren't just coincidences),[13] but once again, Christian art in the third century and beyond is irrelevant to first century Judeo-Christianity illustrated in the New Testament texts where these iconographic images are absent. As far as the Internet claims of Horus, this is probably by far the one theory that has the most bogus claims attributed to it. Mythicists claim that Horus was:

 

  • Born of a virgin named Isis-Meri (Mary)
  • Born in December 25th
  • Was of royal decent
  • Was born in a cave/manger
  • His birth was announced by a star in the East
  • Baby Horus was attended by three wise men.

 

Remarkable the similarities isn't it? Yet three out of seven of these claims actually have no relevance to Judeo-Christianity, in spite of the fact that they're not even true anyway. December 25th is a later church tradition not found in canon scripture or early Judeo-Christian practice (discussed in Part II); nor do the scriptures mention the number of wise men (in spite of the fact that this is a bogus claim about Hours anyway), and we just debunked the fact that Isis was a virgin or any higher deity like Re or Nut inducing the actual birth in Isis.

As far as Horus being born of royal decent, to "Isis-Meri," in a cave/manger and under a star of the East -- mythological kings and gods were always born of royal decent so this is nothing new or out of the ordinary. Horus was born to replace the royal heritage of Osiris and to avenge his father's death. Jesus was born into the line of David who would replace no one. So, other than a royal descendant, where is there a correlation? I have found no support for a cave/manger or star of the East in any ancient sources I've looked at on Egyptian religion.[14] In fact, Horus was actually born in the swamps under completely unique circumstances and was visited by no one because Isis gave birth to Horus "in secret" (Horus was hidden from his uncle Seth who had killed his father Osiris, as noted in reference #11). There is also no star, wise men or factual association to any one of those other bogus claims about his birth in any of the sources I've looked at.

Philip Gardiner actually takes it a few steps beyond the so-called Isis-Meri assertion and argues that the name Mary in the Hebrew means "beloved," thus uses this to support an association to Isis who is often herself referred to as "the beloved of Osiris."[15] If this is even true, it's quite a presumptuous stretch to actually support a Isis-Meri connection from this. First of all, the name Mary in Aramaic is miryam and doesn't even mean "beloved," but oddly enough means "their rebellion." Later scholars and even church fathers interpreted the name as "bitter sea,"[16] not a name that would seem exceptionally appealing to a Jewish fiction artist. In the early 20th century,

Fransisco Zorrell supposed that the name was a mixture of the Egyptian derivative mer or mar (to love) and the Hebrew Yam (Yahweh) to form mar-yam or mer-yam "to love Yahweh," "one loving Yahweh," or "one beloved by Yahweh." Though this is at least plausible, it doesn't appear to be a majority view or whether this is even a correct derivative seems highly questionable. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia doubts this conclusion (and they were not making any cases against the Isis-Meri connection here, mind you), a source that would have undoubtedly been partial to this name derivative if there was any validity to it (see prior reference #16). The name Mary was one of the most popular names in first century Judea among Jewish women (Zorrell's theory would obviously hold a bit more weight if the name was totally unique) and it's hard to imagine so many Jewish parents associating their children with a name that was an Egyptian derivative in order to adore Yahweh. However, even assuming any fact in Zorrell's argument, this infusion would have occurred hundreds of years prior, presumably during the captivity of the Jewish people in Egypt, thus no relevance to any supposed virgin birth invention of the first century. Aside from no valid connection, however, there is no evidence to support that Isis herself had the title Isis-Meri -- as this title remains unproven in any carved iconography or ancient Egyptian sources that proponents can present as evidence, in addition to whether this was even linked to the Egyptian word mer or mar itself. Not only is there no plausible point of contact here between Jesus and Horus but the so-called comparisons themselves are grossly exaggerated or invalid.


Dionysus

Though he was but one Greek deity, also called Bacchus, he is multifaceted; the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Greek deities, the god of many faces, functions, titles, seasons; sometimes destructive, sometimes benevolent, sometimes a man, sometimes an animal, sometimes a youth and sometimes a bearded old man.[17] And though we obviously have a point of contact within the Greco-Roman world, the rituals and practices of Dionysus were wild and often orgiastic, which even had conservative Roman authorities somewhat appalled by the lasciviousness of the rituals, and at some point, drove authorities to put limitations on the cult and its worshipers [18] -- more reasons, I suppose, of an attraction to a conservative Jew in Judea (note the sarcasm). The similarities are not very impressive, and as a result, I won't spend too much time on it.

Virgin birth: There was a miraculous birth indeed, and this is about as close as you'll get to an accurate claim of a virgin birth. Problem is, there appear to be different accounts. In one account, a collection of works under the name Gaius Julius Hyginus (probably a pseudonym), he is shaped in the womb of his mother Semele after she drinks a potion. The surrounding events within the story reek of obvious fiction and myth, as the stories are not only farfetched but aren't at all associated with contemporary history and events of its time. The Christian version is so dissimilar to these stories and these stories' disassociation to contemporary history, that it becomes question begging to assume the Christian story followed the same course of imitating myth and not just history.

In another apparent version, the Greek god Zeus has an affair with Semele (actually had intercourse). After the affair, she demands Zeus display his deity powers. Zeus reluctantly complies, appears as a lightening bolt and incinerates her. All that is left behind is the fetus of Dionysus. Zeus then sews the fetus into his thigh until it develops into a full-grown baby boy.[19] If anyone can get a Christian virgin birth from that they're seriously stretching it.

Death: Dionysus is ripped to pieces by Titans, the parts thrown into a cauldron, cooked and eaten.[20]

Resurrection: The only thing sure here, in most cases, is that he indeed comes back to life, but how this happens is vague and diverse at best. Various versions consist of:

 

  • He descends to Hades to rescue his mother, then returns.
  • Apollo (or Rhea) reassembles the pieces after he is chopped up and buries them with no mention of resurrection.
  • His mother reassembles the pieces and makes him young again.
  • Zeus raises him up from his mortal wound.
  • Zeus swallows Dionysus' heart and is conceived again by his mother Semele.[21]

 

There's really no need to expound here, because once again, to accuse Jews of plagiarizing these illustratively outlandish Greek stories in order to derive a crucified and resurrected Jewish Messiah that was surrounded by contemporary individuals and events of his time, takes more imagination than it does formulating the actual legend. Moreover, with so many variations of Dionysus' resurrection, there is simply no way to definitively establish a historical point of contact, or prove, in most cases, where these versions came from, how widespread they were or from what historical period they date. Acharya's claim that he was born of a virgin, on December 25th, placed in a manger and that he was crucified on a tree is once again an absurd abuse of facts. Quite frankly, I have no idea where she got this information from and my only guess is that she merely cooked it up herself.[22] 

As far as the Baccus amulet (Fig on the right), which displays a crucified figure with the Greek engraving: ΟΡΦΕΟΣ ΒΑΚΚΙΚΟΣ (ORPHEOS BAKKIKOS -- "Orpheos" -- Dionysus' other name) and that serves as eye-candy on Freke and Gandy's book cover The Jesus Mysteries, not only turns out to be dated to the fourth century but deemed as a possible forgery by some scholars.[23] Though the original was destroyed (all that is left are photographs of it), mythicists might hope that the amulet is indeed a fake, because if there ever was an actual amulet that existed in the fourth century, this would demonstrate a clear case of adherents of Dionysus as the plagiarizers long before Judeo-Christianity had already been established. Moreover, with such an obvious imitation as blatant as this, one would be hard-pressed not conclude the adherents of Dionysus as the plagiarizers in every case of similarity (that is, assuming there are any plausible similarities to elements of Christianity in the first place).

 
Mithra

Mithraism, another hot comparative religion is much more of a prime candidate, less multifaceted, less diverse and less complex, with definitive written and archaeological traces to back its existence and about as precise a date of point of contact as you could get from a cult in the Roman Empire. It was even addressed by the church fathers Tertullian and Justin who actually accused Mithraic worshipers of duplicating Christian ideas, so similarities are clearly affirmed here in some very early sources. Once again, some tout how much older Mithraism is than Christianity when in fact its origins are entirely irrelevant. Though most scholars agree it originated in Persia many centuries prior as perhaps a derivative of Zoroastrianism,[24] there seems to be no consensus as to how it actually arrived in the Empire or in what form, which shows how distorted it might have become on its import into the west, particularly through various Hellenistic "filters," or assimilation and mimicry of other popular religions in the Empire. In fact, David Ulansey argues that the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), one of the most sacred and popular images saturating Mithraic Greco-Roman iconography, simply does not exist in the Iranian version of the religion,[25] making its conception even more ambiguous.

Naturally, some have tried to equate the slaying of the bull as a bloody rite of redemption stolen by the Christians. However, blood redemption was already established by Judeo-Christians as early as the first half of the first century (Paul's letters) and even earlier if we connect this to the sacrificial rite of Judaism from which it came, as was discussed in Part II. So, if there's any plagiarism involved, it was clearly the the adherents of Mithra that stole the concept from Judaism. However, scholars conclude that there are no traces of this bloody Mithraic rite until the late second century to the third century, and Bruce Metzger stated that if anyone did any borrowing in this case, it was clearly Mithraic worshipers competing with Christianity.[26] Scholars also believe that Mithraic worship wasn't accorded official status in the Empire until around the second or third century where it reached its popularity.[27] Franz Cumont argues that attestations of various third hand historians do place its presence towards the end of the first century, and some scholars date Dura Mithraeum (iconographic artwork) around that period as well.[28] Still other scholars argue that most of the physical traces should instead be dated from the second century. Edwin Yamauchi argues…

 

"The earliest mithraea are dated to the early second century. There are a handful of inscriptions that date to the early second century, but the vast majority of texts are dated after AD 140."[29]

 
M. J. Vermaseren states about the traces...

 
"The only dated Mithraic inscriptions from the pre-Christian period are the texts of Antiochus I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) in eastern Asia Minor. After that there is one text possibly from the first century A.D., from Cappadocia, one from Phrygia dated to A.D. 77-78, and one from Rome dated to Trajan's reign (A.D. 98-117). All other dated Mithraic inscriptions and monuments belong to the second century."
[30]

 
Thus, we may have strands of Mithraism possibly showing up as early as the first century, artifacts dating somewhere between the late first to second century, and full blown Mithraic worship occurring around the third century. However, even if these arguments are accurate assessments, this is referring to traces within certain locations of the Empire, which certainly doesn't mean that Mithraism had "encompassed" the entire Empire during this time and even less so in the Judea province. The Roman Empire was certainly a vast region of territory, and Cumont makes a point that its infiltration began in the far North in places like Italy and Germany among Roman soldiers. Some scholars have argued that it never encompassed more than 2% of the population even during the height of its popularity, and that its supposed near "triumphant" over Christianity even in its heyday is greatly exaggerated. Mircea Eliade, commenting on Ernest Renan's famous -- "If Christianity had been halted in its growth by some mortal illness, the world would have been Mithraist" -- argues it to be an overstatement.[31]

As we pointed out earlier, there may have been swapping between Christianity and pagan cults later on, perhaps Christians adapting images in catacombs and sarcophagi, yet this is irrelevant and brings us to the strawman we discussed in Part II. Early Judeo-Christians were not practicing iconographers while pagans were, so it would make sense that once iconography took hold on the subsequent generations of Christians, they would begin to adapt images that best illustrated their own doctrine that had been established much earlier. Even if image borrowing occurred, which undoubtedly was inevitable at some point during the second and third century, not only is this irrelevant to first century Judeo-Christianity, but still remains distorted exactly who copied from whom, when and to what degree. Even if it can be proven non-Christian pagans were the first to display such images, we can't disqualify the possibility that they simply stole ideas from this spreading evangelistic movement and were perhaps the first to illustrate these ideas to images. According to the second century father Justin Martyr, Mithraic adherents indeed adopted elements of the Eucharist into their mystic rites.[32]

Much of the data scholars learn about Mithraism in the Roman Empire is interpreted from carvings and artifacts found in temples or caves where these secret rituals and practices took place, and the only detailed written doctrine about these mystery religions is from, ironically enough, the church fathers. Not only is this based solely on the ability of the scholar to interpret these images in its particular locale correctly, and of course objectively, but the location and fluency of most of these relics is an indication that this was your typical sectarian cult, primarily revered by Roman military initiates and top officials in secret, without much influence on the outside population at large.[33]

Even in light of these factors I just discussed, which makes any point of influential contact unlikely, like the Egyptian and Greek gods, the Mithraic birth similarities to Christianity are almost laughable. Mithra was conceived by a rock, or a type of cosmic egg, fully grown, bearing a sword and a torch of light, and in some cases glowing with flames as he emerged.[34] Though I have found no external deity who actually induces the birth, this seems to be distorted as a virgin birth occurring in a "manger," apparently because the rock or egg itself classifies as a virgin, and the hallow opening left in the rock classifies as a cave or manger. In some cases, the connection to a manger is strained by the fact that Mithraist adherents may have worshipped in caves. Interestingly, yet not surprising, much of the same assertions made about Horus and Dionysus are also made about Mithra, and it's amazing how all these gods and goddesses of completely different cultures all have the same themes, dates, births, birth visitations, deaths and resurrections. However, unlike all the other bogus comparisons, December 25th seems to actually have a legitimate connection to Mithraic celebrations and may be the primary source from which post Christians in the fourth century stole that date.[35]

However, like Horus, the assertion that Mithra was visited by three shepherds and three magi who brought gifts is false. The myth proponents actually shoot themselves in the foot here once again because, as we previously covered, the specific number of magi or shepherds is found nowhere in Matthew and Luke's Nativity story, or anywhere in the canon New Testament (in Part 1 of the documentary Zeigeist, Acharya makes the claim that since Matthew indicates there were three gifts the magi brought -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- there must have been three magi… I kid you not!).[36]

Nonetheless, on researching it anyway, there are simply no magi or gifts to be found in association with Mithra, yet unlike Horus, there may have been shepherds who witness Mithra's birth in some versions (however, this seems solely dependent on the interpreter of the iconographic images). However, even this is inconsistent, and all indications, if the interpretations are correct, clearly show signs of borrowing from Christianity. In some images of the rock birth there are no witnesses;[37] in others, there are only two figures, sometimes portrayed as two torch-bearers or servants. According to Manfred Clauss, he recognizes the two figures as torchbearers but sees no grounds for calling them shepherds.[38] Some scholars believe the two figures may actually represent the two equinoxes who accompany Mithra in other images, such as the slaying of the bull (Taurus).[39] According to Cumont, he oddly recognized them as shepherds, yet not only points out other modifications, such as Mithra holding grapes that replaced the Haoma found in Persian images, but states that the birth story of Mithra occurred before there was even life on earth. This implies that even if Cumont's shepherd interpretation is correct, the idea was obviously an anachronism, thus was modified and not part of the original story.[40]

Mithra's so-called crucifixion and resurrection is a bogus assertion all together, nor does Mithra even die. Yamauchi states of Mithra: "I know of no references to a supposed death and resurrection." Richard Gordon states that "there is no death of Mithras,"[41] thus there can obviously be no resurrection. As far as the Mithraic Eucharist where Mithra declares the phrase: "He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved," and is compared to Jesus' words in the gospel of John (John 6:53-56), Vermaseren argues that the source of this saying is not Mithras but is a medieval text, with the speaker instead being that of Zarathustra.[42] Vermaseren argues that this might be what the church father Justin Martyr referred to when he accused Mithraic believers of "imitating" the Christian Eucharist. However, not only is it unclear if this even relates to anything the followers claimed that Mithra himself said, but there is no evidence this source dates earlier than the medieval period. 


The ignored external reality

It was because of the discrepancies in these assertions alone that I realized some real credibility issues with those making these claims, and though it certainly doesn't surprise me how so much misinformation can get passed around on the Internet, it continuously amazes me how such information and shoddy scholarship can be passed off in actual published books. Basically what it comes down to is a bit of truth, some half-truths and mostly falsities all mixed into one, with very little potency of support any influence on first century Jews. The arguments from some of its proponents like Acharya, Freke and Gandy can sound quite convincing to those who lack experience and knowledge on the subject, which unfortunately sometimes appears to be the sole intent -- fudging facts and figures just enough in order to entertain the novice reader.

Fortunately, these arguments are typically rejected by mainstream scholarship, including some of Christianity's fiercest critics today like Jesus Seminar, the head director of this group being none other than one of the most outspoken critics of Christianity, John Dominic Crossan, and it's no accident why. Once we breakdown the falsities and analyze the historical factors of this argument in detail, it comes as no surprise why scholars like Robert Van Voorst would declare this issue "as effectively refuted," or why Ronald Nash would state that once the full scope of historical information is gathered, the argued comparisons between Eastern myths and Christianity are regarded by most scholars today "as a dead issue."[43]

 

The virgin birth of Christ

Since the when has been firmly supported (it was a pre-70 CE tradition), yet the who, why, how and where remain unanswered (discussed here: Part 1 and Part II), and since generalizations, unsupported conjectures and false facts fail to answer these questions, leaving criticism of the Christian Nativity story wholly based on modern subjectivity and bias against the story, which also won't due against objective historical analysis of the story (aside from the fact that parthenogenesis is now a biological possibility even in the natural),[44] the conclusion is that the story of the Christian virgin birth was true. It was an early Judaic tradition, and the reason it had no contention surrounding it is because it was indeed a fact that was easily verifiable by witnesses who were still around to verify it, such as Jesus' mother Mary and his siblings who apparently served as leaders in the early church (see Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19).

Since the virgin "myth" argument or the plagiarized argument, purported today by modern skeptics, obviously didn't hold much weight among ancient skeptics to have even considered such an argument prior to the 18th century, there is yet another theory the skeptical ancient world may have cooked up in order to debunk the claims of Christ's virgin birth, which may have been the earliest refutation of the account we have. Next article: The Joseph, Mary and Pantera love triangle.

 

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Source References

1. Justin Martyr, The First Apology, chap.54 (www.newadvent.org).

2. Gerald Massey as quoted by A. Acharya, The Christ Conspiracy, p.74; 1999.

3. John M. G. Barclay, Colossians and Philemon, p.65; 2004.

    James D. G. Dunn, Jesus remembered, p.163; 2003.

    Philip Francis Esler, The early Christian world, Volume 2, p.188; 2000.

    Gerard van Groningen, First century gnosticism: Its origin and motifs, p.103-104; 1967.

4. James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus, p. 18, 49-50; 2008.

    James C. VanderKam, Peter W. Flint, The meaning of the Dead Sea scrolls, pp.321, 330-341; 2002.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea scrolls and Christian origins, pp.4-11, 31-38; 2000.

    Barclay, ibid., pp.65-67. 

    Daniel B. Wallace, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Argument, Outline: Hellenistic Thought (www.bible.org).

    Craig A. Evans, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewishness of the Gospels, pp.3-11; html, pdf (www.craigaevans.com).

    Leon Morris, The Dead Sea Scrolls and St. John’s Gospel (www.biblicalstudies.org.uk).

5. Mike Licona, A Refutation of Acharya S's book, The Christ Conspiracy; 2001 (www.answeringinfidels.com). 

6. Elizabeth A. McCabe, An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration into New Testament Studies, p.57; 2007.

7. John Anthony West, The Traveler's Key to Ancient Egypt, p.387; 1995.

    Karol Myśliwiec, Geoffrey L. Packer, Eros on the Nile, p20-21; 2004.

    Geraldine Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt, p.154; 1995.

    Susan A. Stephens, Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria, p.56-59; 2003. 

    E. A. Wallis Budge, V. Legend of the Birth of Horus, Son of Isis and Osiris (www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/index.htm)

8. Plutarch, Osiris and Isis, section 12:66-67 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/) .

9. Simson R. Najovits, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree: A Modern Survey of an Ancient Land, pp.20-25, 99-101; 2004.

10. C. Scott Littleton, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology, pp.1206-10; 2005.

11. Jocelyn Almond, Keith Seddon, Egyptian Paganism for Beginners: Bring the Gods & Goddesses Into Daily Life, p.156; 2004.

12. James G. Frazer, Adonis Attis Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion, pp.211-212; 2006.

      Marian Edwardes, Lewis Spence, Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology, p.153; 2003.

      Littleton, ibid., p. 1206-08.

13. David P. Silverman, Ancient Egypt, p.135; 2003.

14. J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, p.8; 2006.

      George Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, pp.70-76, 79-83; 2005.

      Pinch, ibid., p.154.

      Stephens, ibid., p.56-59.

      Plutarch, Osiris and Isis, section 12:66-67 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/)

      E. A. Wallis Budge, V. Legend of the Birth of Horus, Son of Isis and Osiris (www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/index.htm).

      Birth &  Flight of Horus (www.touregypt.net/index.htm)

15. Philip Gardiner, The Ark, the Shroud, and Mary: The Untold Truths about the Relics of the Bible, p.137; 2007.

16. Kevin Knight, The Name of Mary (Catholic Encyclopedia) (www.newadvent.org)

17. Thomas H. Carpenter, Faraone A. Christopher, Masks of Dionysus, p.1; 1993.

18. Mary R. Lefkowitz, Maureen B. Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome, pp.273-275; 2005.

      Kenneth C. Davis, Don't Know Much about Mythology, pp.206-207; 2006.

19. Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae, [167] CLXVII. LIBER (www.theoi.com).

      Davis, ibid., pp.207.

20. ibid., pp.208-209.

21. J. P. Holding, Dealing Down Dionysus, sources cited: James Frazer, The Golden Bough; 1981. Thomas H. Faraone, A. Carpenter, Masks of Dionysos; 1993. Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion;1922. Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult; 1965. (http://www.tektonics.org)

22. A. Acharya, The Christ Conspiracy, p.112; 1996.

23. Holding, ibid., sources cited: R. Eisler, Orpheus the Fisher; 1920. WKC Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion, pp.265-278; 1952, and p.476, an endnote reference to Otto Kern, Gnomon; 1935. (www.tektonics.org).

24. See Mithraism: Origin Theories.

25. David Ulansey, The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras (www.well.com/user/davidu/mithras.html).

26. Gunter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and thc Pagan Mysteries, p.266; 1963.

      Bruce M. Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish and Christian, p.11; 1968.

27. Littleton, ibid., p. 1218; 2005.

       See Mithras: Rituals and Worship.

       Also see Mithraic Mysteries: History and Development.

28. Franz Cumont, The Dissemination of Mithraism in the Roman Empire, p.37-38 (www.sacred-texts.com/cla/mom/index.htm).

29. Edwin M. Yamauchi, quoted by  Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 169; 2007.

       M.J. Vermaseren, Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentorum Religionis Mithriacae, p. 57; 1956.

30. Vermaseren, Mithras, The Secret God, p. 76; 1963.

31. James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 16: V. 16, p.756; 2003.

      Mark McFall, Mithras, source cited: The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization (www.frontline-apologetics.com).

      J. Ed Komoszewski, Sawyer, Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, p.323; 2006. Endnote cited: Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, 2:326; 1982.

32. Martyr, ibid., chap. 66.

33. Hastings, ibid., Part 16: V. 16, pp.755-756; 2003.

       Cumont, ibid., p.40; Mithra and the Imperial Power of Rome, p.87.

       Ulansey, The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras.

34. Manfred Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries, p.62-71; 2001.

       Cumont, The Doctrine of the Mithraic Mysteries, p.131-132.

       Farvardyn Project, The Legend of Mithras, source cited: M.J. Vermaseren, Mithras, the Secret God; 196 (www.farvardyn.com/index.htm).

       Ulansey, The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras.

35. Clauss, ibid., p.66.

36. Zeitgeist Challenge Exposes Acharya S and Zeitgeist (3 of 3) (http://www.youtube.com).

37. To view illustrations: Clauss, ibid., p.62-71. Temple of Mithras (http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/archive/index.html). Ulansey, The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras.

38. Clauss, ibid., p.69.

39. See Mithraic Mysteries: The Tauroctony.

40. Cumont, ibid., Mithra holding grapes (see Fig. 31). The birth story of Mithra occurred before there was life on earth pp. 131-133.

41. Yamauchi, quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.172; 2007.      

      Richard Gordon, Image and Value in the Greco Roman World, p.96; 1996.

42. M. J. Vermaseren, Mithras the Secret God, p.103; 1963.

43. Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, p. 16; 2000.

      Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, p.1; 1992

44. Sylvia Pagán Westphal, 'Virgin birth' Mammal Rewrites Rules of Biology; 2004 (http://www.newscientist.com).