Despite Having No Evidence, Skeptics Still Insist: Jesus Ripped-Off Pagan Gods

The following is a chapter from my book 25 Christmas Myths. Because skeptics continue to repeat the myth that the story of Jesus is either a rip-off or a composite of other pagan traditions, I've decided to post this chapter for easy reference. Enjoy! Oh, and buy my book ;)

Did you know that Jesus is actually a rip-off of the pre-Christian god Mithras? According to legend, Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25, had twelve disciples, promised his followers immortality, called himself the way and the truth and the life, initiated a communion-like meal, commanded animal sacrifice, died for world peace, was buried in a tomb, and came back to life on the third day!

Boy, that sounds a lot like Jesus doesn't it? The two are practically identical. It doesn't help the case for Christianity that Mithras predates Jesus by several hundred years. Mithras was the guardian of cattle and the waters in Persia and Babylon before the false god was later integrated into the Roman cults. This has led many skeptics to criticize Christianity for plagiarizing paganism.

Journalist Lee Strobel wrote, "A book called The Jesus Mysteries, which promoted similar themes, was named Book of the Year by London's Daily Telegraph in 1999. 'The story of Jesus and the teachings he gives in the New Testament are prefigured by the myths and teachings of the ancient Pagan mysteries,' said the authors, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. They added:
'Each mystery religion taught its own version of the myth of the dying and resurrecting Godman, who was known by different names in different places. In Egypt, where the mysteries began, he was Osiris. In Greece he becomes Dionysus, in Asia Minor he is known as Attis, in Syria he is Adonis, in Persia he is Mithras, in Alexandria he is Serapis, to name a few.'" (1)
That might sound like a Huzzah! for skeptics and a Hush! for Christianity, right? Nope, it's a big pile of Hooey! Any and all claims that Christianity is a rip-off of some pagan religion are easily refuted with solid scholarship. I'm not going to invest the space in debunking every accusation, but let's stick with the comparison to Mithraism.

It's true that belief in Mithras predates belief in Jesus Christ. However, no Mithraic traditions came about until the end of the first century. That means Mithraism as a religion is more likely to have ripped-off Christianity rather than the other way around. Mithraism was a Roman mystery cult merely inspired by the Persian and Babylonian mythology from which it was taken.

According to the Romans, Mithras was born of a rock. So much for being virgin-born. As for being born on December 25th, that may not be Jesus' birthday, but it's not Mithras' birthday either. Remember that Emperor Aurelian chose December 25th as the date to dedicate his temple to the Roman sun god, Sol Invictus. In Roman architecture, Mithras was depicted as shaking hands with Sol Invictus. That's his connection to December 25th. (2)

Did Mithras have twelve disciples? No. None of the pagan gods had disciples (a word that means "learner"). They were gods, not teachers. Did Mithras promise immortality to those who worshiped him? Maybe. But if Mithras worshipers believed in immortality, how would that be a rip-off within Christianity? Did Mithras call himself the way, the truth, and the life as Jesus did in John 14:6? Did Mithras die for world peace? Was he buried in a tomb and came back to life on the third day? No, no, and no.

Truth be told, almost no liturgy regarding Mithraic traditions has survived. In fact, there seems to be only one similarity between Mithraism and Christianity, and that's between the Lord's Supper and the Mithraic sacramental meal. The only reason we know about the similarity is because early church fathers Justin Martyr and Tertullian said, "the Mithraic meal was a satanic imitation." (3) The Lord's supper was derived from Passover, not Mithraism.

There have been many attempts to delegitimize Christianity by saying it's a rip-off of this religion or that religion. All these claims are equally absurd. One of the earliest was in the late nineteenth century by a fraud in Egyptology named Gerald Massey. He claimed that the Jesus we worship today is a version the Gnostics came up with from the Egyptian god Horus. Massey said:
Christian ignorance notwithstanding, the Gnostic Jesus is the Egyptian Horus who was continued by the various sects of Gnostics under both the names of Horus and Jesus. In the gnostic iconography of the Roman Catacombs, child-Horus reappears as the mummy-babe who wears the solar disc. The royal Horus is represented in the cloak of royalty, and the phallic emblem found there witnesses to Jesus being Horus of the resurrection. The resurrection of Osiris, the mummy-god, is reproduced in the Roman Catacombs as the raising of Lazarus. (4)
Massey's claims were rejected by credible historians as fringe nonsense with no basis in fact. But they and similar assertions continue to be repeated by many atheists and agnostics, thanks in part to a documentary called Religulous by comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher (comedian and talk-show host—the kind of resumé a credible theologian should have, right?). According to the documentary:
Written in 1280 B.C., the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a god, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. "Asar" translates to "Lazarus." Oh yeah, he also had 12 disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after 3 days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected. (5)
But again, these claims were inspired by Massey who has long since been refuted. Maher gave no sources for his information, other than a reference to the Egyptian Book of the Dead which does not affirm his claims.

According to Egyptian mythology, Horus was born to the goddess Isis, not a virgin woman. There's no mention of Anup the Baptizer or Asar, nor is such an Egyptian name translated as "Lazarus." Horus was not tempted while alone in the desert; he did not travel the countryside healing the sick and performing miracles; and there's nothing about Horus being crucified, resurrected three days later, and announced by two women as savior of the world.

Maher and skeptics like him will say they won't believe in Jesus without verifiable evidence, yet they'll believe the "Jesus is Horus" myth without verifiable evidence! The Apostle Peter said of men like this, "They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do" (1 Peter 2:8).

Peter also said, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). Unlike the claims of many other world religions and skeptics, the coming of our Lord Christ is not a myth. It's historical fact, verified by eyewitness accounts.

Christians do not believe in blind faith. It is the unbelieving who are blind. Jesus has opened the eyes of His followers to see the truth. In the words of Simeon in Luke 2:30, "My eyes have seen your salvation."

  1. Strobel, Lee; The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), pg. 158-159.
  2. Strobel, pg. 171.
  3. Strobel, pg. 173.
  4. Massey, Gerald; Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World, Vol. 2 (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1907), pg. 752.
  5. Religulous, Dir. Larry Charles, Starring Bill Maher (Lions Gate, 2009), DVD.

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