Did Christianity invent stories by borrowing from pagan religions?

Have you ever had someone tell you that Christianity borrowed from other pagan religions in order to create history out of nothing? Me either. Because the people who make such arguments are all confined to lunatic asylums. Almost no reputable historian makes arguments like this.

Well, Shane over at Caffeinated Thoughts wrote a post to answer the objection. (H/T ECM)

Excerpt:

…the basic premise is that since Horus and Mithra both pre-date the New Testament, Christianity merely borrowed from that mythology ascribing to Jesus the virgin birth, the disciples, the tomb, and the resurrection.

Go here to read the rest.

And then you can see how well these theories do in formal academic debates. Listen to these two debates with the two best “mystery religions” people, squaring off against William Lane Craig.

Notice how neither of these debates is even close. Carrier admitted defeat after his debate, and Price admits that  virtually no one agrees with him during his debate. This is fringe stuff that is very interesting to people who have no interest in testing their ideas in debates with professional scholars.

Debates about the historical Jesus are listed in this previous post.

Related posts

UPDATE: Dr. Glenn Peoples has a refutation of the lame Mithra hypothesis here.

60 thoughts on “Did Christianity invent stories by borrowing from pagan religions?”

  1. I actually *have* had people claim that. This is the stuff of such ridiculousness as the Zeitgeist videos on the Internet. If you haven’t heard of those they are laughably inaccurate, but yet I have met a few people who have watched them and believed the portions they said about Christianity.

    The first film was 3 parts, the first part being about how Christianity was developed out of other pagan religions, and some other government conspiracy theories. It’s been awhile since I looked into it, and since it was blatant rubbish in the first place, I didn’t even pay attention that closely in the first place.

  2. I often make this claim, about as often as I argue against the ressurection and I will say why.

    I cannot stress enough the differences between society then and now. All the technology we take for granted today didn’t exist – such things as coroners, reporters, cameras, newspapers, forensic science, and even police detectives. In those days, few could check the details of a story if they wanted to – and few wanted to. And I will take this one step further: Is it a coincidence that these occurrences stopped happening at the same time we developed the means and methods to check them using rigorous scientific methods and careful investigation?

    On top of the that, the skeptics and doubters didn’t have the money or time to waste debunking yet another crazy cult, of which there were many.

    Lets ignore the above statements and turn our attention to the gospels (many of which were originally anonymous and later ascribed to certain individuals decades later) belong a genre of literature called hagiography: “a sacred account of a holy person regarded as representing a moral and divine ideal”. The main goal and principal aim is the glorification of the religion itself. Such literature is often a tool of propaganda.

    The time and place in which these stories originated was an age of fables, wonder, magic and miracles. Magic, miracles and ghosts were everywhere and were seldom ever doubted or questioned. It’s common knowledge that lunar eclipses were attributed to witches calling out evil spirits, etc.

    How much of the religion is borrowed, it’s hard to say, but any cursory search will show plenty of overlap (look at my christmas post here on this site for just a couple of examples)

    1. “On top of the that, the skeptics and doubters didn’t have the money or time to waste debunking yet another crazy cult, of which there were many.”

      The skeptics were the Jewish government, and they had plenty of time and money to waste attacking Christianity.

      1. They were only a portion of the skeptics and they did not want to prove him wrong, they simply wanted to silence him. Instead of showing him to be a fraud, they essentially said: “We don’t like what you’re saying, it goes against our beliefs, you must die” and they killed him, creating a martyr and making it impossible to disprove anything he said or to make him recant, etc.

        1. And since you mentioned recantation, I wonder why none of the twelve apostles plus Paul and James ever recanted, even though all but about two were persecuted to the death.

    2. So Jerry, once all the couching is stripped away, your whole argument must surely rest on your claim that “any cursory search will show plenty of overlap.” The issue is exactly how much overlap – how much proof of similarity. Unfortunately for skeptical theories, it is precisely here that they collapse.

      1. Wow, I’m really pulling in the big guns. I would like to know why you claim that the skeptical theories collapse there. I have found very little collapse in my continuing research (I use research loosely here), I’ve just started reading another book that is showing plenty of overlap with christianity and another older religion – Buddhism.

        Additionally, amongst most of the scholars it seems to be common knowledge that Christianity borrowed a lot from the religions of it’s time to make conversions easier, even our beloved Christmas.

        1. Jerry, if you’ve “found very little collapse,” I can only suppose that this means you’ve found strong support for the myth copycat theories. It’s pretty hard for me to list “non-parallels,” because that would merely consist of me listing parallels that aren’t there (i.e. I would need to say nothing). Perhaps if you have uncovered good evidence of the parallels you have in mind, you could explain what those parallels are and what evidence exists for them (or at least, specifically where we can go to find that evidence).

          I think “common knowledge” is less than compelling here.

          1. Actually, tell you what Jerry. I’ll get the ball rolling with this link. There you’ll find two blog entries and a podcast entry where I discuss in specifics the far reaching claims that some skeptics like to make about the similarities between Jesus and Buddha, Jesus and Osiris (this one is a podcast), and Jesus and Mithras. If you want some exposure to the other side (a side that, with all respect, represents more mainstream thinking ont he subject), start there.

  3. like I said – they Jewish hierarchy and the Romans weren’t interested in recanting or disproving; to them it was a very simple matter, you don’t believe what we do and we believe your teachings amount to insurrection, you must die. There was no attempt to get at the truth – they “knew what the truth was – what they believed. I think you’re missing the point. I would have loved for them to have investigated Jesus, but that’s not how it worked. His (Jesus) believers believed him, his disbelievers didn’t, unfortunately his disbelievers were the ones in control and had no interest in finding the truth; their only interest lied in quieting him. By doing so they create a martyr and lost the truth to history.

      1. I would have to check. Again, you have to remember that up until recently, presenting my view would have led to me being murdered or imprisoned by the religious establishment (Don’t believe me, see the documentary on evangelical christians named “Jesus Camp” that debuted in 2006).

        But here is another problem, my view is based on historical facts (social customs and beliefs) and common sense. But PhD’s want hard evidence – we have documents written by believers that claim jesus was killed and put into a tomb. We have no testimony or eye-witnesses, but we went there later and the tomb was empty. It couldn’t have been grave robbers or that he didn’t actually die as quickly as they claim (remember Pilate being surprised at how quickly he died) or that his body was (re)moved. The only point of views we have are those that were written to support the very claim that is in question. On top of this, the claim mirrors another very popular religion of the time: Mithraism. Mithraism was very popular in Rome and among the military and one of it’s main claims was the death, burial (also in a rock tomb!) and resurrection of the god Mithra (the sun god I believe).

        In time, people will realize the sense of my argument, but since 85% of the nation believe in god, it will take time before people are brave enough to question what has been so blinly accepted for so long

        1. Holy snark. You watch “Jesus Camp”, a film which makes Michael Moore movies look reliable, and you can’t name a single reputable scholar who agrees with you.

          I recommend watching or listening to academic debates instead of “Jesus Camp”. Just some friendly advice.

          1. I only watched Jesus camp because some atheist friends of mine talked about how “scary” it was – it wasn’t an academic pursuit in the normal sense. Think of it more as gaining insight into the “other side.”

            Jesus camp is a real documentary about how a large group of evangelical christians teach their kids and their overall philosophies. You may not agree with them, but many do.

          2. I learn about the other side, too, Jerry. I watch formal academic debates at the top university campuses in the world to learn what the other side thinks. I guess that’s going to be a difference between us – different approaches to gaining knowledge.

          3. watching formal debates (I read the transcripts) only teaches you about a small subset of the other side. We live in a country that is starting to have a great disdain for education (look at your article on Berkley HS in California). So you peek at but a sliver of the beliefs and claim to be fully knowledgeable.

            Like I said, the truth has been, and still is, severely restricted. Only 80 years ago we were attempting to imprison teachers for teaching something other than the bible about the origin of species, so it is impossible for academic circles to have done the amount of research in the past decade or two that the religious circles have had eons to do.

          4. So? Today schools got taken to court just to put label to warn students to be critical of evolution theory.

            People get sacked for displaying their faith publicly.

            What are you moaning about?

          5. It’s not just the people who get sacked either, it’s all the intimidation and coercion that never sees the light of day. If I could pick one trait to describe the hedonists on the secular left, it would be an extreme ignorance of and hostility to, academic debate.

        2. Can you find any references to Mithra even dying, much less resurrecting? I believe you are entirely wrong about that. (And even if you can find such a reference, does it pre-date or post-date the first century?)

          1. Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, p42

            If you don’t feel like reading the book, there are plenty of people who already have and posted it on the web – just search on “mithraism” or take wintery’s title and turn it into a search term, for example “pagan origins of the resurrection” would probably return something good.

            I just tried that last search term and the first page has 8 other religions that pre-date christianity and had their messiahs/gods reserrecting in the springtime

          2. Who is this person that you are citing? Is he a PhD credentialed historian with publications in peer-reviewed journals? Why don’t you tell us a bit about your source for your view that Jesus never existed? Ever seen this idea of yours presented in a debate? (I mean, prior to me posting two debates)

            From what I could tell in a quick search, he’s a politician with no credentials in history, languages, etc.

            The way Christians decide these questions is to basically do an investigation and listen to debates, then choose. A while back I was thinking about becoming a Catholic so I listened to a dozen debates between James White and Roman Catholic scholars, then decided against it. That’s how I decide things. And came out with a better understanding of what Catholics really believed.

            A debate is a nice filter for finding out the relevant arguments pro- and con. If you go to an Internet Infidels web site, you don’t get scholarship.

          3. I never said Jesus didn’t exist, I have very little doubt that Jesus existed. I do not believe, however, that Jesus was a god/son of a god or do I believe he was resurrected.

            You need to check his references, i.e., the references in the book.

            While I know you believe debates = fact, but that’s not how it works. Because one person is a better debater than another does not mean that he is a stronger source of truth.

            A Ph.D. does NOT mean you are an absolute expert on everything nor does not mean that your ideas are impervious to challenge, even from those who lack such honors nor does not automatically mean you are more fit to perform a particular job, etc. A Ph.D., generally speaking, means that at least at one point in the person’s life they were able to demonstrate the minimum competency necessary to do original work in a given field.

            As I’ve stated, the ideas I’m putting forth are probably pretty original, at least very few people feel secure enough to put them out in the public realm.

            How do you reconcile the fact that there are (at least 8) other religions that had a similar story on the resurrection prior to Christianity’s version? Even Christmas was shared with other religions – the very date.

            Maybe I should go back to UB and submit these ideas for PhD (these ideas come from some of the papers I wrote in the philosophy classes I took at UB and boy did the Christians there get defensive).

          4. You’ll have to decide for yourself what to believe. I know why you’re choosing the way you are, and it has nothing to do with seeking the truth. But that’s your choice. It’s your choice to decide whether to trust yourself or whether to subject your desires to rational inquiry in the public square. I like scholarly debate between opposing sides, and you like Googling on Internet Infidels and reading the writings of non-historians. And everyone has to decide how much effort they are going to put into these questions, and whether they are willing to alter the priorities of their lives based on what they find.

          5. Yeah, and intelligence is one thing, but it’s important to interact with people who disagree with you who have studied these things. Drew, I’m begging you to read the Koukl-Shermer debate I just posted and give me your thoughts! Please!

          6. Unfortunately I no longer have the book so I can’t personally get you his references (I had an original copy that disappeared when my roommates in college moved out).

            Though I don’t have numbers, I do seem to recall that in the 1800’s it wasn’t all that uncommon to have not finished school, especially if you were not from an upper class family. I think his accomplishments despite his lack of formal education do speak volumes for his intellectual abilities.

            Out of curiosity, why do you believe early jesus-myth is outdated?

          7. I didn’t argue that all Jesus-myth ideas are outdated. I was just pointing out that mithraic scholarship was significantly revised in the 1970s.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithraic_Mysteries#Cumont.27s_hypothesis

            Honestly, this Jesus-myth stuff doesn’t even particularly bother me. Given the history described in Romans 1 and in Genesis, it seems obvious that we would find similarities among world religions. It would almost bother me if there *weren’t* any similarities.

          8. That’s probably the best response I’ve heard from a christian, not that it would calm my mind, but I like it.

  4. Here is a good debate:

    Part 2

    Lee Strobel moderates a debate between a rabbi and William Lane Craig on the doctrine of the Trinity.

      1. Cool! There are also links in there exploring myths about Christianity borrowed from Buddhism (virgin birth of Buddha) and Egyptian gods like Osiris (divine father, death by betrayal, resurrection, etc).

  5. Jerry,
    It would be helpful if you could back up your statements with evidence. I suspect that you would be hard pressed to back up a large number of your points. For example:

    In those days, few could check the details of a story if they wanted to – and few wanted to

    On top of the that, the skeptics and doubters didn’t have the money or time to waste debunking yet another crazy cult, of which there were many.

    the gospels (many of which were originally anonymous and later ascribed to certain individuals decades later) belong a genre of literature called hagiography.

    The main goal and principal aim is the glorification of the religion itself. Such literature is often a tool of propaganda.

    The time and place in which these stories originated was an age of fables, wonder, magic and miracles. Magic, miracles and ghosts were everywhere and were seldom ever doubted or questioned. It’s common knowledge that lunar eclipses were attributed to witches calling out evil spirits, etc.

    By doing so they create a martyr and lost the truth to history.

    Side note: if they lost the truth to history, how do you claim to know the truth about it?

    Again, you have to remember that up until recently, presenting my view would have led to me being murdered or imprisoned by the religious establishment

    Murdered? Imprisoned? Give evidence please.

    Mithraism was very popular in Rome and among the military and one of it’s main claims was the death, burial (also in a rock tomb!) and resurrection of the god Mithra (the sun god I believe).

    When did Mithraism arise? Give some scholarly evidence.

    Jesus camp is a real documentary about how a large group of evangelical christians teach their kids and their overall philosophies.

    I’ve seen Jesus Camp and it is scary. However, demonstrate that a “large group of evangelical Christians” teach in this way.

    If you have no good evidence for the above, then you should simply stop stating it.

    1. I have given decent sources and info to follow up on – this is wintery’s blog, not an open forum and blogs aren’t the best place or format to debate ideas like these. That being said, history is filled with people that have been killed by the church for blasphemy and it’s not hard to find. I even gave the example of the scopes monkey trials where a science teacher was arrested and put on trial for teaching science in the 20th century. Even to this day states like Kansas and Texas want to cut out evolution. All I can do on someone else’s blog is point you in the direction I believe the truth is pointed, after that it is up to you to head down that path.

      You asked: “Side note: if they lost the truth to history, how do you claim to know the truth about it?” As I stated, I can only talk about where the truth points. In a time of mysticism and magical beliefs, a man with magical powers emerges. It happens in a time before we can examine it, so everyone just takes it on faith. It never happens again, but history has recorded many similar occurrences prior to it – so there is a pattern that keeps repeating throughout pre-scientific civilization. Had the Jewish powers gathered a 100 or so very sick people of varying ailments and forced Jesus to demonstrate his “powers” on them and held him alive to see if any of them recovered while recording all of the very specific symptoms and recovery route I believe we would have seen something very different. They could have also forced him to perform his other miracles in front of the scientists of the day, etc. I doubt under close supervision any miracles would have taken place

      1. So again no evidence cited. A lot of assertions and opinions, but no evidence.

        The truth isn’t determined by your emotions and intuitions, Jerry. When people ask you for facts and evidence, they aren’t asking for your opinions. We want some evidence. Preferably something debate-tested.

        Everyone has to decide between scholarly debates and watching “Inherit the Wind”, Bugs Bunny cartoons about the belief in a flat-earth, and “Jesus Camp”. Your call. That’s the choice. I understand why you WANT to believe what you believe. It confers many psychological benefits. But that shouldn’t be mistaken for a rational inquiry in the public square with opposing scholars.

        1. Here is a link the gives cursory discussion to the average socioeconomic status of Jesus’s time:
          http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/XTOLOGY2.htm

          I didn’t think it was neccessary to prove that the average person was poor and incapable of setting aside their subsistence existence to disprove the traveling healers and preachers of the time (not to mention the obvious lack of formal training and education back then and a dearth of technology). It’s been widely stated in economic journals of our time that in no other time in history have we had so many in the upper class (I get my numbers from most of the epidemiological papers that my wife receives – they like to break down health problems by this, but even searching forbes.com will give you good insight into this).

          Some things are obvious and can be referenced in any history book, that’s why I left out references for what I assumed were my obvious statements…sorry about that.

    2. Jerry,
      I have given decent sources and info to follow up on

      No, you haven’t given me any sources which demonstrate your above assertions and I think you realize this.

      this is wintery’s blog, not an open forum and blogs aren’t the best place or format to debate ideas like these

      Wintery clearly doesn’t mind. Further, you must realize how silly you sound. You make huge, sweeping claims as if these “facts” are obvious to everyone and then when asked to back up any of them, you claim this isn’t the time or place. It’s rather humorous.

      Why is it that “skeptics” desire experts when it comes to science, mathematics, etc. yet when it comes to ancient history, any old hack will do as long as he/she confirms your biases?

      I’d strongly urge you to go back and just read the statements that I pulled out above and ask yourself if these are actually verified by ancient historians.

      Happy New Year, Jerry! You should make it a resolution to boldly seek after the truth about Jesus in 2010. Go where the truth is pointed.

      1. what particular assertions are you claiming need more references?

        Math doesn’t neccessarily (sp?) need experts – anyone with a decent background can prove via the formal proof process whether you’re right or not. If you can’t prove it and no one else can it’s only a theory/conjecture until it can be proven. Science can get a little sticky, but it still requires a decent background in what can be very complicated issues. On top of that, a lot of people love to put forth ideas that are not scientific (think creationism) and attempt to hide them behind pseudo-scientific veils (creationism is not science because you can’t create testable theories or make predictions from it’s main tenet – god did it).

        Assertions like what I’ve put forth are “soft science” – you need to be familiar with history and historical patterns, but there is generally not a lot of hard science involved; I say this about the conjectures only – pursuits like archeology and anthropology do require a strong scientific approach, but once you finished your dig and you need to analyze the data, it becomes soft science. Until we can find a way to travel back in time or find aliens that were around and recorded our history, we can only guess at what happened. I myself tend to shun guesses that involve magical beings that appear only in a time of history that lacked any type of technology that could easily prove/disprove, or even reliably record, to explain events.

        Add to this most ancient cultures have been raided by their neighbors in countless wars and a lot of history is lost. Languages and cultures change, making it hard to interpret from the perspective our our current culture.

        1. Jerry,
          what particular assertions are you claiming need more references?

          The ones I put in italics above. Scroll up and read your own words that I put in italics. It’s seriously not that complicated. Unless, of course, you don’t have any legitimate resources which I’m beginning to suspect is the case.

          1. I’ve actually given resources to most of that through out my other posts.

            The “large group” of evangelical christians can get subjective. The fact that that movie was so popular in the heart land is large enough for me. I went to my sisters wedding last year were most of the church (they were baptists) talked about it, approvingly. Their point of view is reflected on countless blogs and websites, enough so that it’s too large for my liking.

            As for the Mithraism, look at the book I mentioned. Like I also said, if you don’t want to read the book, then just fall back to thing that most people like, google. But there are plenty of books that deal with Mithraism and it’s spread and popularity.

            I talked about the socioeconomic status of the typical Galilean (not just them though, poverty and subsistence living was the norm). There was no formal education for the poor and destitute and we also know the technological levels back then, the other statements follow. The rest is such common knowledge that any history book on that time will do.

          2. Jerry,
            Hearing a few people say they liked “Jesus Camp” is not evidence that it represents a large number of evangelicals. But this really doesn’t matter.

            I’ll just pick out two other things because I’m not sure how to convince you if you think your own intuition, experience, and the fact that something is “popular” on the internet serve as evidence.

            1. Your evidence for Mithraism is awful. You provide no data from ancient historians and seem content to believe whatever is on the “internets”. Read this article which actually cites ancient historians: http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/index.php/merry-mithras/

            2. Your claim that the Gospels are hagiography. Name one scholar who argues this. Are you even aware that this method of writing didn’t develop until at least after the mid-2nd century? How could the Gospel writers be utilizing this method?

            Bottom line: your evidence is poor. Do you agree?

        2. Math is very different from history. You’re making a lot of historical claims without citing sources.

          Also, math do need expert too.

          “God did it” is not fallacious if in fact God really did it.

          1. I didn’t claim that math didn’t need experts, but if you’re familiar enough with math and can follow it’s rigorous formal proof process, you can prove/disprove bogus claims.

            “God did it” is fallacious because you can never prove god did without some unmistakable/undeniable proof, otherwise it’s just another case of jesus showing up in a grilled cheese.

          2. Just FYI, I consider the scientific arguments I offer (big bang, fine-tuning of cosmic constants, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, limits to changes from mutations, galactic fine-tuning, stellar fine-tuning, origin of consciousness, free will, etc. to be undeniable and/or irrefutable.

            The responses I get to these arguments are things like “science is wrong”, “logic is wrong”, “history is wrong”, “there are billion unobservable fossils/universes/aliens”, “Jesus’ followers stole the body and then lied about it so they could be killed in painful ways”, etc.

            And I am talking about what you see in debates presented by people with the appropriate qualifications, publications and testable scientific observations, e.g. – cosmic microwave background radiation predictions or light element predictions.

            Can I hear one argument in proper logical form (e.g. – MP, MT, etc), with premises supported by mainstream peer-reviewed articles that show that God does not exist?

        3. “Assertions like what I’ve put forth are “soft science” – you need to be familiar with history and historical patterns, but there is generally not a lot of hard science involved;”

          No wonder a lot of atheists still believe the lie that Columbus proved the world isn’t flat.

          1. I blogged on that flat-earth thing! I’m not saying anything about Jerry, but I think that some atheists seem to get their worldview from Bugs Bunny cartoons, “Inherit the Wind” and Michael Moore movies. I’m serious. None of them ever watch academic debates or read academic collections of essays, or go to conferences or forums to hear both sides of issues. Sorry to be mean, that’s just my opinion. The majority though just don’t want to hear the best case the other side can put out.

          2. The soft science is the predictions made from the hard science. It’s soft because it’s subjective, the data can be interpreted in multiple ways and it’s hard to say who is right without a time machine. Christians claim Jesus is the son of god because uneducated, superstitious people (the very same ones that thought witches created solar eclipses) 2000 years ago claimed he performed miracles that can neither be proven or disproven (we have no recordings whether it be digital or extensive paintings made by medical examiners of the day). We have only the texts that were created to glorify the very man we are questioning – hardly impartial. Now everyone else (muslims, atheists, hindus, etc) claims he is not the son of god. Who is right, the non-christians of course:).

          3. Do you think we will ever see any evidence for any of these claims you keep making? I’m afraid I am going to have to insist on seeing some evidence soon for these claims. Specifically, I would like to see you rebut some of the evidence collected by Glenn. I’m not so interested in opinions and speculations as I am in arguments and evidence, especially something that was sustained as reliable in a debate setting.

            I have been very patient but I think that you should think twice before writing any long comments without some names, dates, places and evidence. And I don’t from politicians who left school at 13 and have been dead for decades.

          4. “Christians claim Jesus is the son of god because uneducated, superstitious people…”

            Right… another empty claim

            Anyone who is honest and really value truth, regardless of their belief, would rather have Gospel author Luke to write history book than any of the new atheists.

  6. There is no reliable evidence for a historical Christ. So why make the a-priori assumption he existed?

    1. Manajar33,
      What criteria do historians use to find out information about ancient historical persons? Also, what would evidence would you expect to find from the first century?

    2. Priori assumption? You mean like “everything is natural”? Well, no body has seen ‘everything’ let alone claiming ‘everything is natural’.

      On the other hand, at least, there are many eye witnesses and historical text about Jesus, His life, His death, and His resurrection.

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