Beyond Tradition

The Myth that Never Was

 by Sean D. Harmon 

 
Whenever there are similarites found between Christianity and pagan religions, it seems critics have a natural knack to assume Christians did the copying. Sometimes this is based on the argument that most religions predate Christianity. Though this might seem like a factual basis to support that argument, in many cases, it can be misleading. I'll spend the time in this article breaking down just why this can be misleading in many different ways. This is continued from the previous article about the Nativity virgin birth story (here: Jesus Christmas). Aside from the internal problems as a fabricated myth that rack the story, which was discussed in that article, there are five external problems specifically against the argument that it was myth:

Right place, wrong time

Can elements in the church be traced back to pagan rituals? In a word -- definitely. There are an assortment of rituals mixed into later Christian tradition that are indeed suspect, yet occurred hundreds of years subsequent to the root of Judeo-Christianity, such as:

 

  • Transubstantiation -- a literal transformation of bread and wine into Christ's flesh and blood.
  • The resurrection and its "Easter" connotation.
  • Elements that attached onto the Nativity; particularly December 25th and the Winter Solstice.

 

We also see this obvious influence in a lot of the symbols, sacraments and artwork of the later church, which was undoubtedly inspired by pagan iconography and imagery. However, the Judeo-Christians were Jews. Jews were against worshiping graven images and was expressed rather vehemently in scripture (Deuteronomy 4:15-19). Thus, iconographical images of Christ would have been considered idolatry, a belief that certainly carried on into at least the next few generation of Christian converts from the first century and beyond, and indeed it did. Most of these symbols are pagan symbols from the Roman Empire that intermingled well after the foundation of Judeo-Christianity had already been laid in the first century and are not found in canon scripture, such as:

 

  • Glowing halos.
  • Madonna or Marian (Mary) worship.
  • Mary’s perpetual virginity -- in fact, contradictory to scripture (see Matthew 1:25).
  • Mary suckling the infant Jesus or hailed as the "Holy Mother" or "Queen of Heaven."

 

Good Friday is not scriptural, and there is no New Testament record indicating what day Jesus was buried -- however, based on logical deduction from indirect information within the gospels, he was obviously buried at sundown (Matthew 27:57), raised after three days and since there was clearly a second preparation day (a feast day before the Sabbath week, indicated in Luke -- 23:55-56), this  shoots Good Friday tradition into the ground and has him more than likely buried on "Good Wednesday" at sundown instead.[1]

December 25th is found nowhere in scripture, in fact, shepherds would probably not be tending their sheep in the blistering cold in Israel in December, nor are there any references to the rituals that are typically associated with Christmas (trees, decorations, elves, Santa, deer, etc.), and the earliest assimilation of Christmas into Christianity was in the fourth century.[2] The early Judeo-Christians did not celebrate anything even related to Christmas or Easter, and it should be noted that the word "Easter" translated in the King James (Acts 12:4) is actually the Greek work pascha, which instead means Passover. When Christianity was designated the official religion of Rome in the fourth century and the centuries to come, every other pagan religion of the Empire inevitably latched on and became infused. Roman Christians didn't help this process any when they began to designate their own celebrations on the same day as the pagan celebrations and even adopted some of the same practices to try and trump these celebrations. They also undoubtedly used this same type of method  against pagan temples, sites, artwork and relics as well, such as the Madonna images, the "fish" symbol (or the Pope's fish hat) and Jesus carrying a sheep (Jesus never actually carried any sheep in scripture). In other words, the motto centuries after Judeo-Christianity had already been established apparently was: “if you can't beat them, join them."[3]

Without question, we could imagine that there was a lot of swapping and amalgamation going on between both Christianity and pagan cults during the latter stages of Christianity in the Roman Empire. However, more adopting from the former than the latter most likely was the case if we base this on who was obviously the top dog and the fastest spreading in the Empire at the time. Most of the outside cults were secret, hence the term "mystery religions," were not typically publicized, rarely ever produced written texts, and were not evangelistic like Christianity. Therefore, the problem with this issue is obviously two-fold: Not only can we not firmly establish who copied whom and to what degree, but any amalgamation that did occur took place during the stages of the latter church, not Judeo-Christian history that had been established centuries prior. The Nativity story and the virgin birth found in the gospels is derived from Judeo-Christians in the first century, well before these supplemental elements were added and infused, and it's very important to recognize the distinctions here. So, to try and discredit the validity of Judeo-Christianity of the first century by attacking subsequent church tradition that assimilated with these pagan images centuries later is just a red herring that only confuses the naive and uninformed. Believe it or not, I see this type of confusion used all the time by many Jesus-mythicists. Outspoken Jesus-mythicists, such as Acharya S, are masterful with this tactic. This might ruffle the feathers of a few modern church adherents who rely heavily on these external sacraments, rituals and images, especially Catholics or Eastern Orthodox Christians (undoubtedly the real motive behind these arguments), but anything that occurred with Christian orthodoxy past the first century has no relevance to the origins of Christianity of the first century, which is why none of these elements are found in the first century written New Testament texts.

Common bonds that unite

It would be naive to declare that Judeo-Christianity is totally exclusive and devoid of having any similarities whatsoever with the ancient world around them; but to declare one belief invalid because there might be similarities with other beliefs is to assume that there are no other explanations for these similarities other than the former copied the idea from the latter.

One way of looking at it is that human beings will inevitably use familiar terms and expressions of influence in the environment around them to explain things that might be beyond the scope of their knowledge and perception in order to clarify their own beliefs and views to their contemporaries who also recognize and are familiar with these terms and expressions. Thus borrowing is often confused with duplicating. John's logos (The Word) commentary is undoubtedly an example of this (John 1:1-14). The word logos was Greek terminology that was used by Jewish Hellenists writers, such as Philo, as a theological expression, thus John borrowed this concept so that his readers, familiar with this philosophical concept, could grasp what he was conveying about Christ. The influences of Hellenization goes without saying, as even the Jewish Christians were evangelizing in a world that was clearly influenced by profound and sophisticated Greek thought and language. Martin Hengel notes...

 

"For one can nowhere prove the direct influence of pagan cults or non-Jewish thought on early Christianity. What is described in the New testament as Hellenistic could very well stem from Jewish sources that remained embedded in the religious koinē, the common religious language of the Hellenistic period."[4] 

 

It would be highly unrealistic to assume that an apostle like Paul, who was known as an "apostle to the Gentiles," and who communicated to these Gentiles in the Greek language, used wholly Jewish terminology, colloquialisms and ideas to preach to this audience. Needless to say, this view has inevitable tendencies to spiral into exaggeration; such as the theories of pre-Christian gnostic influences on Christianity. This was proposed with vigor around the 19th and early 20th centuries until the idea was abandoned, based on the discoveries of the Dead Sea scrolls and its cultural correlation with early Judeo-Christianity (discussed here: Gospel Date; A Jewish Messiah in a gentile world). So, if scholars can get carried away with these ideas, such as Paul's links to Greek mysticism, we need to be exceptionally careful and realize that there is often a very fine and obscure line here when one is borrowing languages, terminology, expressions, colloquialisms and even ideas from mainstream beliefs or philosophies that are familiar within the culture and environment into order to explain or clarify independent beliefs, which is a natural and inevitable cultural process.

Just because the first century Qumran writers who wrote War Scroll used the phrase "sons of Light," as did both Jesus (John 12:36) and Paul (Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5) in their own expressions, doesn't mean that the Qumran community were Christian any more than Jesus, John and Paul were Qumranite members or Essences. It's clear from written material of the Qumran community that the two doctrine are like night and day in views of theology, but even before this evidence can be sifted out via archeology and scholarship, a more sensible and responsible historical approach would at first suppose that the Qumran writers adopted a popular term used in the Judean culture to express their doctrine in the same manner as their contemporaries Jesus, John and Paul adopted this term to express their doctrine within the same culture, as opposed to both parties directly belonging to one another. In other words, they shared a common cultural heritage. This doesn't automatically mean they were swapping religious ideas.

Paul frequently used the Greek word pneuma to refer to the Holy Spirit or just "spirit" in a general sense, and some have also erroneously used this to accuse Paul of being a gnostic since this was often a word adopted in pagan mysteries that were linked to gnosticism, in spite of the fact that Paul's theology was anything but gnostic in other areas of his views. The word was a universal Greek word, and was just as commonly used by the gospel authors themselves to describe the Holy Spirit. Finding these similarities and instantly assuming a direct connection is a very naive approach to historical analysis, which would be analogous to a future historian concluding that everyone in western civilization who used the expression "oh my God" was a devout theist; or finding a letter written by a college professor to his students and assuming it was written by someone of a lower class because the document contains ghetto slang in some areas that the professor used to communicate to his young contemporaries.

Needless to say, these types of miscalculated suppositions are relegated to careless amateurs. If one is catering to a skeptical crowd looking for support of their subjective views about Christianity, one need not bother correcting such erroneous generalities. But if one is to undertake a serious study of ancient cultures, one needs to be very careful here and firmly establish that this is not just a case of borrowing for better contemporary expression and comprehension, before blindly concluding from this that it represents religious duplication. 

The Jewish gospels

Since we consider most other birth stories about divine heroes like Zeus, Mithra and Dionysus obvious fiction, what makes the story of Jesus' virgin birth any less a fiction to its ancient counterparts? The difference is that Jesus was an actual historical person, whereas all other divine heroes were not, nor do any of the divine heroes and demigods of the Greco-Roman Pantheon ever interact with historical figures. So, in this scenario, we would have to argue an extremely unusual place in history where the historical Jesus morphed from a Nazarene Jew into a legendary pagan deity within just a generation that he had lived. Not only is a post-70 gospel date argument for Matthew and Luke alone inconclusive and up against our challenges to this date (discussed here: Gospel Date; Introductory), which would still put these stories within about a 60 year timeline at the latest, but the gospel date argument is irrelevant in the case of the virgin birth story because there is very little doubt that the virgin birth story itself is a pre-70 tradition (discussed in Part I of this article).

In spite of the fact the gospels are written in Greek, that's about the only thing one could associate to anything Greco-Roman, even though there was obviously plenty of Greek speaking Jews in and around Judea in the first century. Nothing about the content within the gospels themselves is influenced by Greco-Roman theology or culture. The earliest concepts of Christian theology are all rooted in Semitism in just every aspect of New Testament written sources (other discussions about this are here: Gospel Date; A Jewish Messiah in a pagan world, and The Jesus-myth Myth; A Judaic myth?), which makes an argument that Judeo-Christianity was influenced by any aspect of pagan mythology almost laughable and absurd.

Since I already discussed the heavily Jewish influences in the Nativity story itself in Part 1 of this article, I won't elaborate (here: Jesus Christmas; Oy! A Jewish Nativity). Aside from the virgin birth, for example, is the resurrection; another alleged love-child of pagan inspired mystery religions. However, resurrections of actual mortal men were more of an anathema to Greco-Roman thought. The Greeks repudiated resurrection of the mortal body. The skeptic and philosopher Celsus argued that though the soul could reasonably attain everlasting life, the body was "more worthless than dung." Other Greek writers such as Plutarch stated that it was a violation of nature to believe that bodies were sent to heaven instead of freeing themselves completely of morality after death. Seneca, the Stoic tutor of Nero, spoke about the condition of human beings being "the detestable habitation of the body, and vain flesh in which the soul is imprisoned."[5] Bodily resurrection was purely a product of Judaism and there are about as many resurrection miracles and references to resurrection theology found in Jewish scripture as New Testament scripture (see Daniel 12:2; Ezekiel 37:1-12; Isaiah 26:19; 53:9-10; Psalm 16:10-11; 1 Kings 17:21-22; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 2 Kings 13:20-21), including Jewish apocryphal scriptures, such as 1 Enoch 51:1 and 4 Ezra 7:32. Therefore, even though Jesus' followers initially were not expecting a "messianic resurrection" in an individual sense, bodily resurrection was not at all a aberrant concept to them.

The New Testament writers correlated Jesus' death and resurrection not to any pagan ideology, but to the fulfillment of the ultimate role of the Jewish high priest (Hebrews 9:24-25), and a high priest in the order of Melchizedek (examples: Mark 12:35-37; Acts 2:32-35; Romans 8:34; Hebrew 5:9-10); a concept solely influenced by Jewish scripture (Psalm 110:4). Moreover, within this Jewish messianic paradigm, one of the primary purposes of the resurrection was not based on an esoteric Greco-religious goal, but, outside of atonement, was necessary to synthesize the connection with prophecies in Hebrew scripture of a suffering servant and a conquering king (priest and king); eschatological Semitic thoughts we find exhaustively expressed in Jewish sources -- both canon and apocryphal scripture, rabbinic sources and the Qumran scrolls (discussed here: The Messianic Matrix). Judeo-Christians not only expounded on these beliefs entirely from Semitic blueprint that was laid out in their culture prior but continued to highlight it with Jewish scripture. They continued proclaiming Jesus as Israel's promised king throughout New Testament scripture (see Matthew 2:5-6, 12:18-20, 19:28; Luke 1:46-55, 1:68-79, 22:26-30; John 1:49-50), and proclaimed Christ would return to fulfill this second role as the expectant king that was anticipated in Jewish culture (see Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:26; Luke 12:36-37; John 14:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 4:15-16, 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8; 1 Timothy 6:13-14; Hebrews 10:37; 1 Peter 1:13; James 5:8; Jude 1:14-15; Revelations 16:15, 19:11-16, 22:20).

Whether one chooses to believe Matthew’s prophecies peppered throughout the birth story of Christ were miraculous fulfillments, persharim, or gross misinterpretation of Jewish scripture, fact is, the inspiration and his interpretative methodology came solely from ideas and views of Jewish messianism inspired by Jewish scripture.

The Eucharist or Last Supper, erroneously argued as being influenced by some mystic feast practiced by pagans; yet the Eucharist that took place in the gospels, eaten during the Passover feast itself (Matthew 26:19-21; Mark 14:16-18; John 13:1), correlates with the Jewish Passover meal from the Exodus story (Exodus 12:1-13); a concept carried into the New Testament from Jewish scripture wherein Jesus is symbolized as the sacrificial lamb slain at that meal -- the lamb of Yom Kippur (see John 1:29, 1:36; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6). His blood spilled represented the lamb’s blood spilled and smeared on the door post in the Exodus scene in order to escape death -- "blood of the new covenant" (see Matthew 26:26-28; Hebrews 9:13-15). Martin Hengel points out that the phrase do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24) "has nothing to do with the ancient meals in memory of the dead, far less with a mystery rite; it corresponds to the Hebrew lezikkaron, and must be understood in terms of the Old Testament Jewish concept of liturgical remembrance."[6] Ron Miller also states of the gospel theology...

 

"This follows from the simple awareness of how vitally the Hebrew Bible lives in every verse of the Christian New testament. Furthermore, any serious student of the text soon comes to realize that not one major theological concept in the gospels originates outside the Hebrew Bible. Monotheism, creation, sin, repentance, Messiah, vicarious suffering, sacrifice, commandments, God’s reign, resurrection, and the final judgment at the close of human history – all of these are as Jewish as they are Christian."[7]

 

In John (6:31-35), Jesus refers to himself as the "the Bread of Life," symbolic of the manna in the Torah that was sent from heaven that fed and sustained the Israelites in the wilderness with nourishment (Exodus 16:14-21). All the Jewish prophecies and rituals throughout the Old Testament were argued by the early Christians as retrospective reflections of Christ's coming in the New Testament; rituals touted as fulfillments in Christ himself (see Hebrews 9:18-26; Colossians 2:16-17; Matthew 5:17, 26:56; Luke 18:31, 24:25-27, 24:44; John 5:39, 5:46). Hence, the theology of Jesus’ virgin birth, life, death and resurrection had nothing to do with pagan symbolism nor did it at all reflect Greco-Roman religious ideas. Every concept of Judeo-Christianity expressed in the written works is directly tied to first century Judaism.

 

Stroll through the Judaic world

Mithraism and the Egyptian legends of Horus were once the two primary myths used as the source of the virgin birth influence, until the theory was scrutinized and debunked by a variety of current scholars, which is now basically purported only on Internet sites or authors of books touting erroneous theories that were proclaimed by 19th century mythicists long ago. It's bad enough when the accusations of pagan influences are not pagan but Jewish, which I established in the previous topic, but the problem only compounds when we dissect the historical probability and cultural roadblocks against this argument due to location the influence supposedly took place. This is why serious scholars have been extremely cautious of this theory. According to Michael Grant, he sees no significant relationships between these mystery religions and Christianity, and states...

 

"Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths, of mythical gods seemed so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit," and states that it is rejected by most scholars as a result."[8]

 

Larry Hurtado concurs... 

"Secondly, it means that the accommodation of Christ as a recipient of cultic devotion in the devotional practice of early Christian groups was a most unusual and significant step that cannot be easily accounted for on the basis of any tendencies in Roman-era Jewish religion. In short, the incorporation of Christ into the devotional patterns of early Christian groups has no real analogy in the Jewish tradition of the period."[9]

 

Hurtado argues, rather extensively, that there is simply no getting around the fact that Judea was a theocracy engulfed by radical Judaic fundamentalism from both the authorities of Judea and the communities they ruled, similar to the radical fundamentalism of Islam in the Middle East of today, and that surrounding forces of the Greco-Roman world that were imposed upon them only further reinvigorated this societal cohesion.[10] I also discussed this in more detail in the previous portion of this article (here: Jesus Christmas, The improbable launchpad). Jews did not have a habit of venturing to other foreign lands, picking up pagan beliefs and bringing them back to their contemporaries in Judea to incorporate into Judaism. As far as Jesus’ followers, not all of them were fishermen, the blue collar day laborers or the commoners and simpletons of Judea, and there is no evidence proving that even these groups themselves were separate or impartial to intellectual Jewish fundamentalism. James Charlesworth writes...

 

"All the disciples were not poor, ignorant peasants or rustic fishermen as earlier critics assumed. Archeological research shows continuity between the culture in the Galilean villages and the cities, such as Sepphoris, Tiberias, Jotapata, and Gamla."[11]

 

Fact is, Peter and John, both of the "fishermen class," were just as devout in their Jewish faith before and after conversion (see Acts 3:1-3, 10:9-14). Jesus also had followers who were Pharisees (Acts 15:5; Galatians 2) that converted post-resurrection and that were just stringent about the law and their heritage as their non-Christian colleagues. Thousands of the Judeo-Christians at Jerusalem were still "zealous for the law" as proclaimed by James in Acts (Acts 21:20). Wayne E. Meeks also writes...

 

"The apostolic church was more nearly a cross section of society than we have sometimes thought.’ The role of the upper class is particularly emphasized by E. A. Judge, who points to the pervasive but seldom-mentioned importance of amicitia and clientele in Roman society to support his conviction that ‘Christianity was a movement sponsored by the local patrons to their social dependents.’ Robert M. Grant, looking primarily at the evidence from the second through the fourth centuries, concurs: ‘The triumph of Christianity in a hierarchically organized society necessarily took place from the top down.’ He infers that, also in the earliest period, Christianity should be viewed ‘not as a proletarian mass movement but as a relatively small cluster of more or less intense groups, largely middle class in origin."[12]

 

So far, what we've laid out in this article are not only the misconceptions used to cloud the issue of religious and mythological amalgamation that are either erroneous or irrelevant, but I have pointed out the external framework wherein the Nativity story would have originated and developed -- a second Temple fundamentalist culture and environment -- which sets the stage for the next obstacle against the argument of a virgin birth fabrication.

Point of contact: The where

The first Christians were Jews, and the coverts that joined in the first few decades of the movement were also predominantly Jewish, so we of course need a geographical and cultural point where this influence came from; a historical point of contact.

Since we know that the virgin birth tradition was unquestionably a pre-70 source (discussed here: Jesus Christmas, Church collusion), and since we know that the gospel accounts themselves are saturated with Judaic influences (demonstrated in the previous topic here), mere comparisons between religions are simply not enough here because the point of contact is the essential anchor that makes this argument historically plausible. Most mythicists with even a modicum of knowledge of ancient history know that there was a mixture of international races and cultures who lived in rather close quarters throughout the Empire, in addition to many trade ports and routes that connected these communities to eastern cultures.

However, the regions and cultures were still isolated, considering the force of zealous religious intolerance, cultural xenophobia and the lack of modern communication technologies that connected them on a mass level. It should also be noted that Christian missionaries were the ones who evangelized to the world (and often times quite aggressively), not the other way around. Therefore, it's only historically plausible that if the theologies and deities worshiped in India, Syria, Egypt or China have stark similarities to Christ, as is purported by Jesus-mythicists, there are three alternative explanations:

 

  1. The similarities are exaggerated, misrepresented or incorrect.
  2. The religion was imported from the far East into the Greco-Roman communities before the first century.
  3. The adherents of these eastern and southern religions, being inundated by missionary intruders, tried to emulate Christianity in order to make their sacred religions more appealing to their countrymen who were being coerced by Christian missionaries, or else the two religions became assimilated outside of Judea from which Christianity sprung as a result of this.

 

We know that at least in some cases #3 is simply a fact. For example, Eusebius indicates that Christianity had spread to the far East well after Matthew's gospel had already been written...

 

"They say that he [Pantaenus] displayed such zeal for the divine Word, that he was appointed as a herald of the Gospel of Christ to the nations in the East, and was sent as far as India. For indeed there were still many evangelists of the Word who sought earnestly to use their inspired zeal, after the examples of the apostles, for the increase and building up of the Divine Word.

Pantaenus was one of these, and is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, he found the Gospel according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left with them the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language, which they had preserved till that time."
[13]

 

Eusebius indicates that when Pantaenus traveled to India he was met by Christians who were already there and even had the gospel of Matthew, which had been given to them decades earlier by the apostle Bartholomew. Jerome, in his work Against Jovinianus, mentions that Buddhist adherents also held a belief that Buddha was born of a virgin. However, Jerome wrote his work in the 4th century, well after Christianity had already spread to those parts. Since there's no way of knowing how old that virgin belief in the Buddhist religion was, there's no way of knowing if that belief was actually present in Judea in the first century. From what we can assess, the indication in this particular case is that Christian theology influenced elements of the east, unless it was just a coincidence. Point being, just because elements of Buddhism predates Christianity, doesn't mean that this is true of all elements of Buddhism. Not only must elements of a virgin birth be a proven element of Buddhism before the first century, but established that these elements were imported into Geo-Roman culture and permeated Judea before the first century.

Not only do the origins of a particular foreign religion outside of Judea become irrelevant to Judean society thousands of miles away, isolated in a different culture and language, but it must be established that this foreign element was imported into Greco-Roman culture at some point and had enough of an effect on Judean culture, and this obviously must predate Christianity. However, it must be noted here that the Greco-Roman empire was a vast one, therefore, when arguing myth influence, the influence obviously didn't just appear out of the blue in the mind of a first century Jew, nor did first century ancients have access to information on the Internet. Religions didn't magically pop up in other regions and cultures and become overnight memes the way they do in the 21st century as a result of the communication technology of that century; to the contrary, these foreign religions took many decades to catch on and become culturally accepted and firmly rooted (i.e. Hellenism).

Ideas were not shared on a mass level. There was no multimedia technology, so ideas were shared via word of mouth, sometimes from one individual to another, from one community to another until they permeated these areas from one to another. When supposing that the Christian virgin birth was influenced by outside pagan religions, the only plausible alternative here is that the religion was imported from these eastern regions and present within the Greco-Roman world sometime either before or during the first century, and this importation was influential enough to have had this collective affect on Jewish Christians in Judea. If this is true, a copy-cat theory can be established via specific evidence.

For example: it has been firmly substantiated through documented and archaeological data that the Isis cult, an Egyptian religion, was honored in Greco-Roman culture as far north as Rome about the time Christianity spawned. Okay, so we have a possible point of contact. Northern parts of Rome don't necessarily extend to Judean society per se, but it will have to due. We know that many Jews spoke both Greek and Aramaic, so this is not really a language problem per se (indeed another issue to always consider). However, even though we've past the first set of hurdles and established a possible cultural point of contact between Isis and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world, Jesus-mythicists then make the mistake of comparing the similarities between Christianity and the specific religion found in Egypt. This is where Horus comes into the picture since he is closely associated with Isis his mother. However, just because Isis was worshipped in the Greco-Roman world doesn't mean that the Horus cult itself was a Greco-Roman phenomenon at the same time; and even if we assume it was, doesn't mean that the doctrines and rituals of Horus and Isis of Egypt was in the same form that infiltrated Greco-Roman society later on.

In other words, assuming Horus was even associated with Isis in the Roman world, the doctrine of Isis and Horus may have gone through filters of linguistic and cultural assimilation and possible infusion with other mythological Greek gods and concepts during its import. Comparing Horus in Egypt to Jesus in Judea is like future archaeologists finding ruins of a McDonalds in both the United States and China, and since China predates the United States, concluding that McDonalds therefore originated in China, and thus the U.S. was influenced by Chinese culture. Yet since we know this is not the case, we need to be sure of other critical factors before we make this reckless conclusion.

Scholars trained in Semitic culture know that it is not enough to assume that Jews "picked up" these beliefs because this is something that wasn't common in this culture, which can be established both from written material and archeology (Jesus Christmas, The improbable launchpad). Since evidence trumps assumption, a point of contact must be established with written or physical evidence, which gives us a way to trace at what point this religion made contact with the west, where it made contact, when and who adopted it and how far it spread, much like from the evidence found with the Isis cult.

Moreover, not only were written manuscripts about the doctrines of many of the eastern mystery religions that permeated the Empire itself scarce, but most of the mystery religions that were even practiced in the Greco-Roman world were just that -- mystery religions, thus sectarian, usually consisting of exclusive initiates who performed secret rites out of public view. The Romans were also just as discriminative and protective of their own religion, thus many of these religions were also not readily embraced by Roman authority, and quite a few of them were even outlawed. So, it seems that Internet sleuths usually don’t realize what trained scholars realized long ago, that they have a set of external hurdles to cross first and foremost before even presenting their asserted comparisons between foreign religions and Judeo-Christianity of the New Testament, such as:

 

  1. A historical point of contact; archeological and/or written evidence that traces how the foreign religion infiltrated the Greco-Roman world, where it infiltrated, when and who adopted it. Since this was an era without mass multimedia technology, ideas were shared from one individual to another, from one community to another, which is why tracing its permeation can easily be done if this religion existed in the area at the time and had an influence on Jews (based on the practices and sentiments of first century Jews, coupled with the isolationism of these mystery cults and the absence of material outlining the doctrines of these cults, most foreign religions would be excluded just from this hurdle alone).
  2. Whether the religion that is being compared as the influence retained its original form during its import from the motherland into the Greco-Roman world; then determine if this import not only matches the initial religion of the motherland, but the imported religion actually predates the first century. In other words, it could just as easily be assumed that the adherents of these religions adopted elements of the Christian faith and added it to these religions to compete with missionaries that had traveled to their motherland, or the two religions assimilated during that time. 
  3. Then comes the comparisons between the two. However, this must come AFTER #1-2 are firmly established, because those two are essential to make the claim historically grounded in an ancient world that was void of any mass communication technology; and in the case of mystery religions, very little public information that could have been circulating into the eager hands of a second Temple Jew.

 

Most proponents of the virgin birth-myth theory typically bypass #1 and #2, yet always eager to present #3, because they're unusually unaware how much Semitism and pre-Judaic influence saturates the gospel texts, something I pointed out earlier. Therefore, #3 is clearly the Jesus-mythicists' only A-game in this argument, and is why they exploit it to the fullest. This is unfortunate for them because when it comes to similarities between Christianity and these other religions, even this becomes highly questionable, and in some cases, outright misrepresentation and falsehood. This brings us to another vital roadblock to this theory that I'll discuss next. 

 

Click here for Part III, or here to go home

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Source References

1. Was Jesus Resurrected on Easter Sunday? (http://sabbath.org).

2. See Christmas: Christian Origins.

3. See Parallels in Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

4. Hengel, Charles Kingsley Barrett, Conflicts and challenges in early Christianity, pp.2-3; 1999.

5. Origen, Contra Celsus, book 5, chap. 14 (www.newadvent.org). 

    Plutarch, The Life of Romulus, section 28:8 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu). 

    Seneca, cited by Edwin M. Yamauchi, C. Ancient Concepts of the Afterlife (www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html ).

6. Martin Hengel, Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch, p.288; 1997.

7. Ron H. Miller, The hidden Gospel of Matthew, pp.xix-xx; 2004.

8. Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, p.199; 1995.

9. Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp.26-42; 2005.

10. ibid., p.31.

11. James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide, p.19 2008.

12. Wayne A. Meeks, The first urban Christians: the social world of the Apostle Paul, p.52; 2003.

13. Eusebius, Church History, book 5, chap.10 (www.newadvent.org).