Did Christianity copy from Buddhism, Mithraism or the myth of Osiris?

Have you ever heard claims that Christianity borrowed the virgin birth from Buddhism, or the other elements from pagan religions? Well, Dr. Glenn Peoples has, and he’s prepared a few responses that I thought I would share.

Please note

IF YOU WANT TO REPLY TO THIS POST TO DISAGREE WITH A SPECIFIC CLAIM IN IT THEN PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU CITE THE SAME KIND OF EVIDENCE THAT GLENN USES TO BACK UP YOUR CLAIMS. PLEASE DON’T SUBMIT OPINIONS AND ASSERTIONS AS COMMENTS TO THIS POST.

Mithraism

Glenn introduces the problem as presented by Dan Brown, a non-scholar who writes sensational fiction that is later made into popular movies for mass consumption by those seeking low-brow entertainment (and worse):

He writes:

According to Teabing in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, “Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras—called the Son of God and the Light of the World—was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days.”

Regarding the virgin birth, he has this to offer:

As we read in Mithraic Studies, Mithras, “wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him from the petra genetrix.” [Franz Cumon, “The Dura Mithraeum” in John R. Hinnells (ed.), Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies (Manchester University Press, 1975), 173.

And about the resurrection, he writes this:

This is where things start getting really confusing. None of the Mithras mythology depicts him being killed for humanity. In fact, he is not depicted as being killed at all. On the contrary, it is Mithras himself who does the killing! As is seen in the most widely use image of Mithras, he was said to have slain a great bull. Actually the very earliest reference to this event is from the close of the first century (AD 98-99), so it is post Christian, but setting that aside, Mithras’ death is not depicted at all. For the earliest reference to the slaying of the bull, see R. L. Gordon, “The date and significance of CIMRM 593 (British Museum, Townley Collection),” Journal of Mithraic Studies 2:2. Read it online here. As there is no depiction of Mithras’ death in any ancient mythology, there is likewise no depiction of any resurrection.

Swedish scholar Tryggve N. D. Mettinger (I can only wonder how his first name is pronounced!) is professor of Hebrew Bible at Lund University in Sweden and a member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, Stockholm. Although he claims that there were in pre-Christian antiquity a few cases of myths of dying and rising gods, he makes two important admissions in his monograph, The Riddle of Resurrection. Firstly, he affirms that he is going against a “near consensus,” and a consensus held not by Christian scholars, but by historians in general. Secondly, while he suggests that there existed myths of gods rising from death, he never suggests that the accounts are similar to that of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact he concludes the opposite:

There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world.

Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wicksell, 2001), 221.

And so on for the other points.

I notice that Glenn cites a lot of peer-reviewed literature in his response. I like to be able to look at evidence when I am deciding what to believe about the world. I think that having solid evidence from scholarly research is a great way to ground a worldview. I definitely do not want to be parroting statements that I heard in a movie as though it were common knowledge, because people might ask me for evidence – and what would I do then if I didn’t have any?

Buddhism

The challenge here is that Christianity stole the virgin birth narrative from Buddhism.

Glenn goes back to the primary sources and looks:

Head over to the sacred texts website and read about the birth of Gautama Buddha (http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/sbe19/sbe1903.htm). Do you see any reference to a virgin birth?

Glenn doesn’t see any virgin birth, but intead finds this:

The reality is, they wrote that he was born to a woman who had been married for twenty years, without so much as a hint that she and her husband were abstaining from sex prior to the birth of the baby.

That doesn’t sound like a virgin birth!

And now I have some advice for skeptics. When you want to believe something, the wise person proportions his belief to the evidence. You don’t choose your beliefs based on non-rational criteria. If you don’t know, then just say “I don’t know”. It’s a mistake to run your life on beliefs that you hold uncritically, just because those beliefs make you feel good.

Osiris

Glenn has a podcast on Osiris here.

What to read to find out more

I recommend these two books. The first is more advanced than the second.

  • Ed Komoszewski, James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications: 2006).
  • Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2007).

Note that Lee Strobel interviews scholars in the second book, since he is a journalist, not a scholar.

Related debates with history of religions skeptics

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

Neither skeptic lands a glove on Craig – Carrier admitted defeat on his blog, and Price admits in the debate that he is on the radical fringe and virtually no one takes him seriously. This Christ-myth stuff isn’t cognitive, it’s an emotional outburst with a verbal smokescreen.

Related posts

Here are some posts about the historical Jesus:

Some debates on the historical Jesus with a reasonable atheist:

Check out this post for some historical debates with evangelicals and radical skeptics.

One thought on “Did Christianity copy from Buddhism, Mithraism or the myth of Osiris?”

  1. “Did Christianity copy from Buddhism, Mithraism or the myth of Osiris?”

    Full and complete answer to this question: No.

    Dr. Edwin Yamauchi is a good source on this — interviewed by Strobel in C4T Real Jesus.

    The copy slander is third-rate wishful-thinking atheist apologetics IMO.

    The third-rate atheist epistemological method (not all atheists succumb to this temptation, but too many do): display utter skepticism towards Christian documents and utter gullibility towards the rest.

    Like

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