Jesus Christ in comparative mythology

Jesus Christ in comparative mythology

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The study of Jesus from a mythographical
Mythography
A mythographer, or a mythologist is a compiler of myths. The word derives from the Greek "μυθογραφία" , "writing of fables", from "μῦθος" , "speech, word, fact, story, narrative" + "γράφω" , "to write, to inscribe". Mythography is then the rendering of myths in the arts...

 perspective is the examination of the narrative of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

, the Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 ("the Anointed
Anointing of Jesus
The anointing of Jesus is an event reported by each of the Canonical gospels, in which a woman pours the entire contents of an alabastron of very expensive perfume over the head or feet of Jesus....

") of the gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

s, Christian theology
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

 and folk Christianity as a central part of Christian mythology
Christian mythology
Christian mythology is the body of myths associated with Christianity. In the study of mythology, the term "myth" refers to a traditional story, often one which is regarded as sacred and which explains how the world and its inhabitants came to have their present form.Classicist G.S. Kirk defines a...

.
It has been noted since antiquity, and in modern scholarship since the 19th century, that Jesus Christ has striking parallels to other deities worshipped in Hellenistic religion
Hellenistic religion
Hellenistic religion is any of the various systems of beliefs and practices of the people who lived under the influence of ancient Greek culture during the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire . There was much continuity in Hellenistic religion: the Greek gods continued to be worshiped, and the...

, specifically to the cult of Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 in the Greek mystery religion
Mystery religion
Mystery religions, sacred Mysteries or simply mysteries, were religious cults of the Greco-Roman world, participation in which was reserved to initiates....

s and with the Buddha
Buddha
In Buddhism, buddhahood is the state of perfect enlightenment attained by a buddha .In Buddhism, the term buddha usually refers to one who has become enlightened...

.

The study of Jesus Christ in the terms of a myth is popularly associated with a skeptical position toward the historicity of Jesus
Historicity of Jesus
The historicity of Jesus concerns how much of what is written about Jesus of Nazareth is historically reliable, and whether the evidence supports the existence of such an historical figure...

, dubbed the "Christ myth theory", and James D.G. Dunn opines that "Myth is a term of at best doubtful relevance to the study of Jesus and the Gospels."

However, various authors have argued that the study of parallels between the narrative of Christ and other mythological figures does not prejudice Jesus' historicity, and is open to several interpretations besides ahistoricity:
  1. Christianity's influence on the Mystery religions (e.g. Augustine of Hippo
    Augustine of Hippo
    Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

    )
  2. Interpretation of mythological parallels as "diabolical imitation" of Christ (e.g. Justin Martyr
    Justin Martyr
    Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

    )
  3. Interpretation of pre-Christian myth as a product of degraded Urmonotheismus
    Urmonotheismus
    Urmonotheismus or primitive monotheism is the hypothesis of a monotheistic Urreligion, from which non-monotheistic religions degenerated...

     (various 20th century Christian apologetics
    Christian apologetics
    Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views...

    )
  4. Interpretation of the Christ narrative as "true myth" (e.g. C. S. Lewis
    C. S. Lewis
    Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

    )
  5. Admission of a historical Jesus
    Historical Jesus
    The term historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of the 1st-century figure Jesus of Nazareth. These reconstructions are based upon historical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and...

    , who is however of lesser interest to Christianity than the Christ myth (e.g. C. G. Jung)

New Testament narrative




According to the New Testament, Jesus was a first century Galilean Jewish teacher who was hailed as the promised Jewish Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 and born of the Virgin Mary.

Connected to his Messianic credentials he is a descendant of the royal blood of David
Genealogy of Jesus
The genealogy of Jesus is described in two passages of the Gospels: Luke 3:23–38 and Matthew 1:1–17.* Matthew's genealogy commences with Abraham and then from King David's son Solomon follows the legal line of the kings through Jeconiah, the king whose descendants were cursed, to Joseph, legal...

. At his crucifixion the Romans referred to him as King of the Jews. He is the predestined Saviour
Redeemer (Christianity)
In Christian theology, Jesus is sometimes referred to as a Redeemer. This refers to the salvation he is believed to have accomplished, and is based on the metaphor of redemption, or "buying back". Although the New Testament does not use the title "Redeemer", the word "redemption" is used in several...

, recognized at birth
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 by magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

, but has to avoid being killed
Massacre of the Innocents
The Massacre of the Innocents is an episode of infanticide by the King of Judea, Herod the Great. According to the Gospel of Matthew Herod orders the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth...

 by Herod
Herod Antipas
Herod Antipater , known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century AD ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch...

, by fleeing into exile
Flight into Egypt
The flight into Egypt is a biblical event described in the Gospel of Matthew , in which Joseph fled to Egypt with his wife Mary and infant son Jesus after a visit by Magi because they learn that King Herod intends to kill the infants of that area...

. As an infant
Child Jesus
The Child Jesus represents Jesus from his Nativity to age 12. At 13 he was considered to be adult, in accordance with the Jewish custom of his time, and that of most Christian cultures until recent centuries.The Child Jesus is frequently depicted in art, from around the third or fourth century...

, he is part of the Holy Family
Holy Family
The Holy Family consists of the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph.The Feast of the Holy Family is a liturgical celebration in the Roman Catholic Church in honor of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph, as a family...

 often associated with the Holy Trinity in Christian symbolism
Christian symbolism
Christian symbolism invests objects or actions with an inner meaning expressing Christian ideas. Christianity has borrowed from the common stock of significant symbols known to most periods and to all regions of the world. Religious symbolism is effective when it appeals to both the intellect and...

.

As a grown man, he is baptized
Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus Christ's public ministry. This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John 1:29-33 rather than a direct narrative, the Baptist bears witness to the episode...

 by John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

. Jesus is identified as the Son of God
Son of God
"Son of God" is a phrase which according to most Christian denominations, Trinitarian in belief, refers to the relationship between Jesus and God, specifically as "God the Son"...

 and receives the Spirit of God
Holy Spirit (Christianity)
For the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God...

 in a form similar to a dove. After withstanding temptation in the wilderness
Temptation of Christ
The temptation of Christ is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean desert. During this time, the devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him...

, he attracts a body of followers, the Twelve Apostles, and wanders around the land preaching
Ministry of Jesus
In the Christian gospels, the Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism in the countryside of Judea, near the River Jordan and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry...

 and performing miraculous healing. Especially noteworthy among his miracles, he displays the ability to transfer his powers to very ordinary peoples (sending out the 12 and the 70). In one instance, his transfiguration
Transfiguration of Jesus
The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported in the New Testament in which Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant upon a mountain. The Synoptic Gospels describe it, and 2 Peter 1:16-18 refers to it....

 in front of his closest followers again reveals him as the Son of God, conversing with two important prophets of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

, Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 and Elijah.

Following a triumphal entry
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels. ....

 into Jerusalem, and the Last Supper
Last Supper
The Last Supper is the final meal that, according to Christian belief, Jesus shared with his Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The Last Supper provides the scriptural basis for the Eucharist, also known as "communion" or "the Lord's Supper".The First Epistle to the Corinthians is...

 where he gives a final sermon, he is betrayed, apprehended
Arrest of Jesus
The arrest of Jesus is a pivotal event recorded in the Canonical gospels. The event ultimately leads, in the Gospel accounts, to Jesus' crucifixion...

, flogged, and driven out
Passion (Christianity)
The Passion is the Christian theological term used for the events and suffering – physical, spiritual, and mental – of Jesus in the hours before and including his trial and execution by crucifixion...

 to the place of execution, where he is crucified
Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

, accompanied by dark omens, both chthonic (earthquakes) and celestial (eclipse
Crucifixion eclipse
According to the Christian synoptic gospels, on the day Jesus Christ was crucified, darkness covered the land for hours, an event which later came to be referred to as the "crucifixion eclipse". Although medieval writers treated the darkness as a miracle, various Christian historians have...

).

He dies and his body is prepared for interment and placed in a tomb. On the third day he rises from the dead
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

 and appears bodily resurrected
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

 to his followers, before miraculously ascending to heaven. For his death to atone for humanity, he is given the title Lamb of God
Lamb of God
The title Lamb of God appears in the Gospel of John, with the exclamation of John the Baptist: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in John 1:29 when he sees Jesus....

, after the sacrificial
Animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature...

 lamb of Hebrew tradition, and as the Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 (Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

, Anointed
Anointing
To anoint is to pour or smear with perfumed oil, milk, water, melted butter or other substances, a process employed ritually by many religions. People and things are anointed to symbolize the introduction of a sacramental or divine influence, a holy emanation, spirit, power or God...

) in reference to his fulfilling of prophecies of a royal saviour. His followers are given the divine spirit
Pentecost
Pentecost is a prominent feast in the calendar of Ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai, and also later in the Christian liturgical year commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ after the Resurrection of Jesus...

 in order to carry on his mission, and clearly display the powers once again that they had utilized when he had empowered them in person. Now (at 'Pentecost' after Christ's ascencion return to the 'spirit-realm') these powers include an unusual "language power' (tongues-glossolalia) providing communication in languages the speakers had not known. The language power is also described as the 'soul strengthening' practice or excercise of 'praying/singing in the HolySpirit 'Presence of Christ'. This activity is found in 'Christ followers' to this day, especially through 'revivals' and 'outpourings of the spirit'. The disciples are charged with ritually commemorating his death in the sacrament
Sacrament
A sacrament is a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites.-General definitions and terms:...

 of the Eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

, involving symbolic ingestion of Christ's body
Theophagy
Theophagy is the practice of eating the body of a god. This is performed symbolically , as a god has never existed in physical reality, through the eating of a food or material symbolic of the god. In fertility rituals, the harvested grain may itself be the reborn god of vegetation. This practice...

. Making this 'celebration of Christs body and blood' is seen as a repetitive fulfillment of , the Pesach or Passover celebrated for atonement for sin. In the early followers this seems to have been preceded by an 'Agape feast' open to visitors, joyful singing repeating scripture and confessing faults in preparation, then a dismissal of all visitors or observers for the intimate 'eucharist' of believers.

Jesus is attributed the titles Son of God and Son of Man and he is identified as God incarnate as the Logos. As both man and God the early church defined Jesus as fully God and fully man at the same time in hypostatic union
Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis.The First Council of Ephesus recognised this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the...

. A triumphal Second Coming
Second Coming
In Christian doctrine, the Second Coming of Christ, the Second Advent, or the Parousia, is the anticipated return of Jesus Christ from Heaven, where he sits at the Right Hand of God, to Earth. This prophecy is found in the canonical gospels and in most Christian and Islamic eschatologies...

 of Christ is prophesized in Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology. Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning last and study , is the study of the end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world...

, when he will preside over the Last Judgment
Last Judgment
The Last Judgment, Final Judgment, Day of Judgment, Judgment Day, or The Day of the Lord in Christian theology, is the final and eternal judgment by God of every nation. The concept is found in all the Canonical gospels, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. It will purportedly take place after the...

 and heralding in a golden Messianic Age
Messianic Age
Messianic Age is a theological term referring to a future time of universal peace and brotherhood on the earth, without crime, war and poverty. Many religions believe that there will be such an age; some refer to it as the "Kingdom of God" or the "World to Come".- Terminology: "messianic" and...

 or Kingdom of God
Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is a foundational concept in the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.The term "Kingdom of God" is found in all four canonical gospels and in the Pauline epistles...

 for the faithful.

Comparative mythology


Themes pointed to include sacral kingship and "theophagy
Theophagy
Theophagy is the practice of eating the body of a god. This is performed symbolically , as a god has never existed in physical reality, through the eating of a food or material symbolic of the god. In fertility rituals, the harvested grain may itself be the reborn god of vegetation. This practice...

", the eating of the body of a fertility god, traced by Walter Burkert
Walter Burkert
Walter Burkert is a German scholar of Greek mythology and cult.An emeritus professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he also has taught in the United Kingdom and the United States...

 to a neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 fertility rite
Fertility rite
Fertility rites are religious rituals that reenact, either actually or symbolically, sexual acts and/or reproductive processes: 'sexual intoxication is a typical component of the...rites of the various functional gods who control reproduction, whether of man, beast, cattle, or grains of seed'..They...

 surrounding a god who needs to die and rise again
Descent to the underworld
The descent to the underworld is a mytheme of comparative mythology found in a diverse number of religions from around the world, including Christianity. The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or...

 in order to feed the community, sublimated in the Christian eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

.

Among the comparanda, observation of mere mythic universals
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

 or "archetypes" needs to be distinguished from claims of historical influence, or common historical origin. Only when features can be shown to be parallel in highly specific detail can a common origin be assumed. Otherwise, there is a danger of 'parallelomania', as Samuel Sandmel (1962) calls it, the excessive and superficial identification of what are really archetypes.

Dionysus and the Greek mysteries


The Greek Eleusinian Mysteries
Eleusinian Mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance...

 were an initiation cult surrounding Demeter
Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

, her daughter Persephone
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

, and the agricultural hero Triptolemus
Triptolemus
Buzyges redirects here. For the genus of grass skipper butterflies, see Buzyges .Triptolemus , in Greek mythology always connected with Demeter of the Eleusinian Mysteries, might be accounted the son of King Celeus of Eleusis in Attica, or, according to the Pseudo-Apollodorus , the son of Gaia and...

.
The derived Hellenistic Orphic traditions syncretized Greek traditions with Egyptian and Mesopotamian elements. In the Orphic tradition, it is Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 who is killed and resurrected. Orphism puts strong emphasis on salvation
Salvation
Within religion salvation is the phenomenon of being saved from the undesirable condition of bondage or suffering experienced by the psyche or soul that has arisen as a result of unskillful or immoral actions generically referred to as sins. Salvation may also be called "deliverance" or...

 in the afterlife
Afterlife
The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...

. Orphism and Hermeticism
Hermeticism
Hermeticism or the Western Hermetic Tradition is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus...

 strongly influenced Platonist mysticism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

 which in turn was a formative influence on late antique Christian theology.

The opening salvo of debates concerning mythological parallels between Dionysus and the figure of the Christ
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 in Christian theology can be traced to Friedrich Hölderlin
Friedrich Hölderlin
Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin was a major German lyric poet, commonly associated with the artistic movement known as Romanticism. Hölderlin was also an important thinker in the development of German Idealism, particularly his early association with and philosophical influence on his...

, whose identification of Dionysus with Christ is most explicit in Brod und Wein (1800–1801) and Der Einzige (1801–1803). Modern scholars such as Martin Hengel
Martin Hengel
Martin Hengel was a German historian of religion, focusing on the "Second Temple Period" or "Hellenistic Period" of early Judaism.-Biography:...

, Barry Powell
Barry B. Powell
Barry B. Powell is the Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of the widely used textbook Classical Myth and many other books. He is a specialist in Homer and in the history of writing...

, and Peter Wick, among others, argue that Dionysian religion and Christianity have notable parallels.

They point to the symbolism of wine and the importance it held in the mythology surrounding both Dionysus and Jesus Christ; though, Wick argues that the use of wine symbolism in the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

, including the story of the Marriage at Cana
Marriage at Cana
In Christianity, the transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John....

 at which Jesus turns water into wine, was intended to show Jesus as superior to Dionysus.

Additionally, some scholars of comparative mythology
Comparative mythology
Comparative mythology is the comparison of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics. Comparative mythology has served a variety of academic purposes...

 argue that both Dionysus and Jesus represent the "dying-and-returning god
Life-death-rebirth deity
A dying god, also known as a dying-and-rising or resurrection deity, is a god who dies and is resurrected or reborn, in either a literal or symbolic sense. Male examples include the ancient Near Eastern and Greek deities Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Attis Tammuz, Asclepius, Orpheus, as well as...

" mythological archetype
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

. Other elements, such as the celebration by a ritual meal of bread and wine, also have parallels. Powell, in particular, argues precursors to the Christian notion of transubstantiation
Transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...

 can be found in Dionysian religion.

Another parallel can be seen in The Bacchae wherein Dionysus appears before King Pentheus on charges of claiming divinity is compared to the New Testament scene of Jesus being interrogated by Pontius Pilate.

E. Kessler in a symposium Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire, Exeter, 17–20 July 2006, argues that Dionysian cult had developed into strict monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

 by the 4th century CE; together with Mithraism
Mithraism
The Mithraic Mysteries were a mystery religion practised in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to 4th centuries AD. The name of the Persian god Mithra, adapted into Greek as Mithras, was linked to a new and distinctive imagery...

 and other sects the cult formed an instance of "pagan monotheism" in direct competition with Early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 during Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

.

Ancient Egypt


Self-taught amateur Egyptologist Gerald Massey
Gerald Massey
Gerald Massey was an English poet and self-educated Egyptologist. He was born near Tring, Hertfordshire in England.-Biography:...

 argued that the deity of Horus and Jesus shared identical mythological origins in his 1907 book Ancient Egypt, the light of the world. His views have been repeated by theologian and Toronto Star
Toronto Star
The Toronto Star is Canada's highest-circulation newspaper, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Its print edition is distributed almost entirely within the province of Ontario...

 columnist Tom Harpur
Tom Harpur
Thomas William Harpur is a Canadian author, broadcaster, columnist and theologian. An ordained priest, he is a proponent of the Christ myth theory, the idea that Jesus did not exist but is a fictional or mythological figure...

, author Acharya S, and political comedian Bill Maher
Bill Maher
William "Bill" Maher, Jr. is an American stand-up comedian, television host, political commentator, author and actor. Before his current role as the host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher hosted a similar late-night talk show called Politically Incorrect originally on Comedy Central and...

. Theologian W. Ward Gasque composed an e-mail to twenty leading Egyptologists, including Professor Emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool
University of Liverpool
The University of Liverpool is a teaching and research university in the city of Liverpool, England. It is a member of the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities and the N8 Group for research collaboration. Founded in 1881 , it is also one of the six original "red brick" civic...

 Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Anderson Kitchen is Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, England...

, and Professor of Egyptology at the University of Toronto
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, situated on the grounds that surround Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King's College, the first institution of higher learning in Upper Canada...

 Ron Leprohan. The e-mail detailed the comparisons alleged by Massey which had been repeated by Harpur. The scholars were unanimous in dismissing any similarities suggested by Massey, and one Egyptologist criticized the comparison as "fringe nonsense."

To the right a 15th century painting by Fra Filippo Lippi of the Madonna. On the left Isis and Horus, respectively the wife-sister and son of Osiris. "When Christianity was spreading across the Empire, it's clear that it deliberately took images from the pagan world in which it lived and into which it spread and used those images."
Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge
E. A. Wallis Budge
Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge was an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who worked for the British Museum and published numerous works on the ancient Near East.-Earlier life:...

 suggests possible connections or parallels in Osiris' resurrection story with those found in Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

:


"The Egyptians of every period in which they are known to us believed that Osiris was of divine origin, that he suffered death and mutilation at the hands of the powers of evil, that after a great struggle with these powers he rose again, that he became henceforth the king of the underworld and judge of the dead, and that because he had conquered death the righteous also might conquer death...In Osiris the Christian Egyptians found the prototype of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

, and in the pictures and statues of Isis suckling her son Horus, they perceived the prototypes of the Virgin Mary and her child."


Biblical scholar Bruce M. Metzger notes that in one account of the Osirian cycle he dies on the 17th of the month of Athyr (approximating to a month between October 28 and November 26 in modern calendars), is revivified on the 19th and compares this to Christ rising on the "third day" but thinks "resurrection" is a questionable description. In contrast Christ Myth proponent George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells , usually known as G. A. Wells, is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. He is best known as an advocate of the idea that Jesus is a largely mythical rather than a historical figure....

 refers to Plutarch's account and asserts that Osiris dies and is mourned on the first day and that his resurrection is celebrated on the third day with the joyful cry "Osiris has been found". He also argues that St. Paul's comparison of bodily resurrection with a seed being planted, and corn then growing (1 Cor 15:35-38), is based on Ancient Egyptian concepts in which the germinating seeds in Osiris beds represent resurrection.
Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 and others have noted that the sacrifices to Osiris were “gloomy, solemn, and mournful...” (Isis and Osiris, 69) and that the great mystery festival, celebrated in two phases, began at Abydos
Abydos, Egypt
Abydos is one of the most ancient cities of Upper Egypt, and also of the eight Upper Nome, of which it was the capital city. It is located about 11 kilometres west of the Nile at latitude 26° 10' N, near the modern Egyptian towns of el-'Araba el Madfuna and al-Balyana...

 on the 17th of Athyr (November 13) commemorating the death of the god, which is also the same day that grain was planted in the ground. “The death of the grain and the death of the god were one and the same: the cereal was identified with the god who came from heaven; he was the bread by which man lives. The resurrection of the god symbolized the rebirth of the grain.” (Larson 17) The annual festival involved the construction of “Osiris Beds” formed in the shape of Osiris, filled with soil and sown with seed. The germinating seed symbolized Osiris rising from the dead. An almost pristine example was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun , Egyptian , ; approx. 1341 BC – 1323 BC) was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty , during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom...

 by Howard Carter.

The first phase of the festival was a public drama depicting the murder and dismemberment of Osiris, the search of his body by Isis, his triumphal return as the resurrected god, and the battle in which Horus defeated Set. This was all presented by skilled actors as a literary history, and was the main method of recruiting cult membership. According to Julius Firmicus Maternus
Julius Firmicus Maternus
Julius Firmicus Maternus was a Christian Latin writer and notable astrologer, who lived in the reign of Constantine I and his successors.-Life and works:...

 of the fourth century, this play was re-enacted each year by worshippers who “beat their breasts and gashed their shoulders.... When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined...they turn from mourning to rejoicing.” (De Errore Profanorum).

The passion of Osiris is reflected in his name 'Wenennefer" ("the one who continues to be perfect"), which also alludes to his post mortem power.

Parts of this Osirian mythology have prompted comparisons with later Christian beliefs and practices.

Egyptologist Erik Hornung
Erik Hornung
Erik Hornung is an Egyptologist and one of the most influential modern writers on the Ancient Egyptian religion. He is Professor Emeritus of Basle University.-Biography:...

 observes that Egyptian Christians continued to mummify corpses (an integral part of the Osirian beliefs) until it finally came to an end with the arrival of Islam and argues for an association between the passion of Jesus and Osirian traditions, particularly in the apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus and Christ's descent into Hades. He concludes that whilst Christianity rejected anything "pagan" it did so only at a superficial level and that early Christianity was "deeply indebted" to Ancient Egypt."

David J. MacLeod argues that the resurrection of Osiris differs from Jesus Christ, saying:


"Perhaps the only pagan god for whom there is a resurrection is the Egyptian Osiris. Close examination of this story shows that it is very different from Christ's resurrection. Osiris did not rise; he ruled in the abode of the dead. As biblical scholar, Roland de Vaux
Roland de Vaux
Father Roland Guérin de Vaux OP was a French Dominican priest who led the Catholic team that initially worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was the director of the Ecole Biblique, a French Catholic Theological School in East Jerusalem, and he was charged with overseeing research on the scrolls...

, wrote, 'What is meant of Osiris being "raised to life?" Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence. But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead. This revived god is in reality a "mummy" god.'... No, the mummified Osiris was hardly an inspiration for the resurrected Christ... As Yamauchi observes, 'Ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death. But it is a mistake to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the biblical doctrine of resurrection. To achieve immortality the Egyptian had to meet three conditions: First, his body had to be preserved by mummification. Second, nourishment was provided by the actual offering of daily bread and beer. Third, magical spells were interred with him. His body did not rise from the dead; rather elements of his personality - his Ba and Ka - continued to hover over his body.'"


A. J. M. Wedderburn further argues that resurrection in Ancient Egypt differs from the "very negative features" in Judaeo-Christian tradition, as the Ancient Egyptians conceived of the afterlife as entry into the glorious kingdom of Osiris.

Marvin Mayer notes that some scholars regard the idea of dying and rising deities in the mystery religions as being fanciful but suggests this may be motivated by apologetic concerns, attempting to keep Christ's resurrection as a unique event. In contrast he argues that the ancient story of dying and rising in the divine, human and crops, (with Osiris as an example), is vindicated and reaches a conclusion in Christianity.

Mother and child parallel



Some believe that the close maternal relationship between Isis and Horus presented in ancient Egyptian imagery were incorporated into later Christian iconography
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

. In particular, the depictions of Mary and Jesus from Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Black Madonna of Czestochowa
The Black Madonna of Częstochowa is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland.-The icon:The origins of the icon and the date of its composition are still hotly contested among scholars...

 share many similarities to extant ancient Egyptian art
Art of Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptian art is the painting, sculpture, architecture and other arts produced by the civilization in the lower Nile Valley from 5000 BC to 300 AD. Ancient Egyptian art reached a high level in painting and sculpture, and was both highly stylized and symbolic...

 depictions of Horus and Isis. Egyptologist Erik Hornung
Erik Hornung
Erik Hornung is an Egyptologist and one of the most influential modern writers on the Ancient Egyptian religion. He is Professor Emeritus of Basle University.-Biography:...

 wrote that "There was an obvious analogy between the Horus child and the baby Jesus and the care they received from their sacred mothers; long before Christianity, Isis had borne the epithet 'mother of the god.'"

This is the result of early Christian exposure to Egyptian art. In a survey of "twenty leading Egyptologists" by Dr. W. Ward Gasque, a Christian scholar, found that all who responded recognised "that the image of the baby Horus and Isis has influenced the Christian iconography of Madonna and Child" but that there were no other similarities, e.g. no evidence that Horus was born of a virgin, had twelve followers, etc.

Child deities


Shed
Shed (deity)
Shed is an Ancient Egyptian deity, popularly called, 'the savior' and is first recorded after the Amarna Period. Representing the concept of salvation he is identified with Horus and in particular "Horus the Child"...

 is an Ancient Egyptian deity, popularly called, 'the savior' and is first recorded after the Amarna Period
Amarna Period
The Amarna Period was an era of Egyptian history during the latter half of the Eighteenth Dynasty when the royal residence of the pharaoh and his queen was shifted to Akhetaten in what is now modern-day Amarna...

. Representing the concept of salvation he is identified with Horus
Horus
Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists...

 and in particular "Horus the Child". Rather than have formal worship in a temple or as an official cult, he appears to have been a god that ordinary Egyptians looked to save them from illness, misfortune or danger. He is shown on the Metternich Stela as vanquishing danger in the form of a serpent, a scorpion and a crocodile.

The rise of "Savior" names in personal piety during the Amarna period has been interpreted as the popular response of ordinary people to the attempts by Akhenaten
Akhenaten
Akhenaten also spelled Echnaton,Ikhnaton,and Khuenaten;meaning "living spirit of Aten") known before the fifth year of his reign as Amenhotep IV , was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt who ruled for 17 years and died perhaps in 1336 BC or 1334 BC...

 to proscribe the ancient religion of Egypt. Shed has also been viewed as a form of the ancient Semitic god Reshef.
Shed can be depicted as a young prince overcoming snakes, lions and crocodiles.

Shed has been viewed as a form of savior, a helper for those in need when state authority or the Kings help is wanting. The increased reliance on divine assistance could even extend to saving a person from the underworld, even to providing a substitute, and lengthening a person's time in this world. In the New Kingdom Shed "the savior" is addressed on countless stelae by people searching or praising him for help.

Mithras



The worship of Mithras was widespread in much of the Roman Empire from the mid-2nd century CE. The Mithra cult in the Roman Empire was a syncretism of different religious motifs, centered on the god Mithras who emerges from a rock. Its closest similarities to Christianity are the story of the slaying of the bull by Mithras; a bull is captured and killed by Mithras when he plunges a knife into it and from the dead bull grain and plants are produced, that symbolize life. Mithras was a solar deity
Solar deity
A solar deity is a sky deity who represents the Sun, or an aspect of it, usually by its perceived power and strength. Solar deities and sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms...

, closely associated with the Roman Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. In 274 Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new...

.

Old Testament



The gospels present Jesus as a figure rooted in and foretold by the prophetic books
Nevi'im
Nevi'im is the second of the three major sections in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. It falls between the Torah and Ketuvim .Nevi'im is traditionally divided into two parts:...

 of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

, notably the Book of Isaiah
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, preceding the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Book of the Twelve...

 and the Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

. Thus, Jesus' nativity is placed in Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

 to comply with , and Jesus' triumphant entry
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels. ....

 into Jerusalem is designed to answer .

A small amount of material is unique to the gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

, that is, not reconstructed for the hypothetical source document of the synoptic gospels ("Q"). In this Jesus is presented with strong parallels to Old Testament figures, most noticeably Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

.

Work done by prominent Q scholars such as John Kloppenborg identifies Q's genre as ancient Near-Eastern "instruction", which consistently attributes its wisdom to a human figure and not the personified Wisdom that one finds in the biblical book of Proverbs
Book of Proverbs
The Book of Proverbs , commonly referred to simply as Proverbs, is a book of the Hebrew Bible.The original Hebrew title of the book of Proverbs is "Míshlê Shlomoh" . When translated into Greek and Latin, the title took on different forms. In the Greek Septuagint the title became "paroimai paroimiae"...

.

Also included among the Messianic prophecies was Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

's Eclogue IV, which significantly contributed to Virgil's status as a virtuous pagan
Virtuous pagan
Virtuous paganism is a concept in Christian theology analogous to that of the "righteous gentile" in Judaism. It addressed the problem of pagans who were never evangelized and consequently during their lifetime had no opportunity to recognize Christ, but nevertheless led virtuous lives, so that it...

.

Buddhism



While historians of early Christianity concentrate on parallels with myths current in the Greco-Roman and Semitic cultures of the 1st century, parallels were also claimed to have been found in Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

. In some cases, these have been interpreted as having a direct influence on early Christianity.

The possible influence of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 on Christianity (and possibly of the Essenes
Essenes
The Essenes were a Jewish sect that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE which some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests...

) has been suggested, but with more emphasis on doctrine than mythology. Nevertheless, it has been noted that the life of Christ bears strong similarities to the life of Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

. This was initially interpreted by certain Catholic missionaries in terms of the "demonic imitation" theory. More recently it has been taken by some scholars as far as a "Copycat Christ" theory, postulating that Jesus is simply a Judaistic retelling of the story of Buddha. Thus, T. W. Doane in his 1882 Bible Myths opined that "nothing now remains for the honest man to do but acknowledge the truth, which is that the history of Jesus of Nazareth as related in the books of the New Testament, is simply a copy of that of Buddha, with a mixture of mythology borrowed from other nations." (p. 286)

Max Müller
Max Müller
Friedrich Max Müller , more regularly known as Max Müller, was a German philologist and Orientalist, one of the founders of the western academic field of Indian studies and the discipline of comparative religion...

 in his 1873 Introduction to the Science of Religion noted that
"Between the language of The Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

 and his disciples, and the language of Christ and his apostles, there are strange coincidences. Even some Buddhist legends and parables sound as if taken from the New Testament, though we know that many of them existed before the beginning of the Christian era
Anno Domini
and Before Christ are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars....

."


Th. J. Plange in 1906 concluded that early Christianity was the product of Buddhist missionaries. Such ideas were critically reviewed by Richard Garbe in his 1914 Indien und das Christentum. Garbe noted that the similarities between Christian and Buddhist tradition have invited much dilettante speculation, but he nevertheless acknowledged some possible influence, in particular on later Christian legend (suggesting that Josaphat is a corrupted form of Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva
In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is either an enlightened existence or an enlightenment-being or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one for enlightenment ." The Pali term has sometimes been translated as "wisdom-being," although in modern publications, and...

, and identifying Eustachius
Saint Eustace
Saint Eustace, also known as Eustachius or Eustathius, was a legendary Christian martyr who lived in the 2nd century AD. A martyr of that name is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, which, however, judges that the legend recounted about him is "completely fabulous." For that reason...

 and Hubertus
Hubertus
Saint Hubertus or Hubert , called the "Apostle of the Ardennes" was the first Bishop of Liège...

 with Samantabhadra
Samantabhadra
Samantabhadra , is a bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism associated with Buddhist practice and meditation. Together with Shakyamuni Buddha and fellow bodhisattva Manjusri he forms the Shakyamuni trinity in Buddhism...

). Garbe accepted the historicity of Christ, but identified four passages in the gospel narrative as borrowed from Buddhist scripture
Buddhist texts
Buddhist texts can be categorized in a number of ways. The Western terms "scripture" and "canonical" are applied to Buddhism in inconsistent ways by Western scholars: for example, one authority refers to "scriptures and other canonical texts", while another says that scriptures can be categorized...

.

Jesus and Hinduism


There has been speculation that Jesus lived in India
Lost years of Jesus
The lost years of Jesus concerns the undocumented timespan between Jesus's childhood and the beginning of his ministry as recorded in the New Testament....

 for a while.

ISKON (the Hare Krishna religion) has stated that it sees Krishna/Vishnu as similar to Jesus and a good alternative.

Some Hindus worship Jesus and the Virgin Mary, though this practice is not an official part of Hinduism.

Influence of the gospels on other mythologies



Jesus has in turn left traces in other mythologies. This holds for 2nd to 3rd century mystery religions and the emergence of Gnosticism
Gnosticism
Gnosticism is a scholarly term for a set of religious beliefs and spiritual practices common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism , and Neoplatonism.A common characteristic of some of these groups was the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis...

; in Reinventing Jesus, the authors put forth the position that "Only after 100 A.D. did the mysteries begin to look very much like Christianity, precisely because their existence was threatened by this new religion. They had to compete to survive."

Within Christian culture, the Christ myth is reflected in many allegories or mythologies, in post-Nicean apocrypha such as the Acts of Pilate
Acts of Pilate
The Acts of Pilate , also called the Gospel of Pilate, is a book of New Testament apocrypha. The dates of its accreted sections are uncertain, but scholars agree in assigning the resulting work to the middle of the fourth century...

, in medieval Mystery play
Mystery play
Mystery plays and miracle plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song...

s, Piers Plowman
Piers Plowman
Piers Plowman or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman is the title of a Middle English allegorical narrative poem by William Langland. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus"...

, The Pilgrim's Progress
The Pilgrim's Progress
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan and published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been...

, Milton's Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse...

 (and, more pertinent to Christ, Paradise Regained
Paradise Regained
Paradise Regained is a poem by the English poet John Milton, published in 1671. It is connected by name to his earlier and more famous epic poem Paradise Lost, with which it shares similar theological themes...

), sometimes advocated as historical (such as the "Jesus bloodline
Jesus bloodline
A Jesus bloodline is a hypothetical sequence of lineal descendants of the historical Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or some other woman, usually portrayed as his alleged wife or a hierodule...

" theories), sometimes ostensibly "pure myth" or Biblical speculative fiction
Biblical speculative fiction
Biblical speculative fiction is speculative fiction that uses Christian themes and incorporates the Christian worldview. The difference between biblical speculative fiction and general Christian speculative fiction is that the Christian nature of the story is overt...

 (such as C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

' Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children's literature and is the author's best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages...

).

History and Interpretation



In current scholarly discussion, the application of foreign myth to understanding Jesus and the New Testament gospels is of doubtful relevance. Scholars look towards understanding Jesus within first century Judean Judaism as opposed to pre- and post-Christian mythologies. However, current theories surrounding the mythological aspects of the Christ arose from 19th century scholarship on the formation of myth
Mythography
A mythographer, or a mythologist is a compiler of myths. The word derives from the Greek "μυθογραφία" , "writing of fables", from "μῦθος" , "speech, word, fact, story, narrative" + "γράφω" , "to write, to inscribe". Mythography is then the rendering of myths in the arts...

, in the work of writers such as Max Müller
Max Müller
Friedrich Max Müller , more regularly known as Max Müller, was a German philologist and Orientalist, one of the founders of the western academic field of Indian studies and the discipline of comparative religion...

 and James Frazer
James Frazer
Sir James George Frazer , was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion...

. Müller argued that religions originated in mythic stories
Religion and mythology
Religion and mythology differ, but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is considered one component or aspect of religion...

 of the birth, death, and rebirth of the Sun. Frazer further attempted to explain the origins of humanity's mythic beliefs in the idea of a "sacrificial king", associated with the Sun as a dying and reviving god and its connection to the regeneration of the earth in springtime. Frazer did not doubt the historicity of Jesus, however, stating, "my theory assumes the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth... The doubts which have been cast upon the historical reality of Jesus are...unworthy of serious attention."

Myth as a category describing the miraculous in the Gospels came to prominence in the nineteenth century, especially by D.F. Strauss who included all the miraculous in the Gospels. For Strauss, myth was interpreted as the expression of an idea in narrative form in contrast to a truly historical event. James D.G. Dunn describes the logic behind this movement as: "Since “myth” was used as a category to describe the foundational stories of other religions, including miraculous births and the like, why should it be withheld from the equivalent stories about Jesus?" However, the impact of Strauss' approach to the miraculous and understanding of myth have not lasted.

The most influential of the books arguing for a mythic Jesus was Arthur Drews
Arthur Drews
Christian Heinrich Arthur Drews [pronounced "drefs"] was a German philosopher, writer, and important representative of German Monist thought. He was born in Uetersen, Holstein, present day Germany....

's The Christ-Myth (1909) which brought together the scholarship of the day in defence of the idea that Christianity had been a Jewish Gnostic cult that spread by appropriating aspects of Greek philosophy
Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and continued through the Hellenistic period, at which point Ancient Greece was incorporated in the Roman Empire...

 and Frazerian death-rebirth deities. This combination of arguments became the standard form of the mythic Christ theory. In Why I Am Not a Christian
Why I Am Not a Christian
Why I Am Not a Christian is a 1927 essay by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell hailed by The Independent as "devastating in its use of cold logic", and listed in the New York Public Library's list of the most influential books of the 20th century....

 (1927), Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 stated that even if Jesus existed, which he doubted, the public does not "know anything" about him.

Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Karl Bultmann was a German theologian of Lutheran background, who was for three decades professor of New Testament studies at the University of Marburg...

 in his 1941 lecture New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message called on interpreters to replace traditional theology with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

, an endeavor intending to translate what Bultmann considered "theology in story form" into a format palatable to a literate modern audience.

Pinchas Lapide
Pinchas Lapide
Pinchas Lapide was a Jewish theologian and Israeli historian. He was an Israeli diplomat from 1951 to 1969, among other position acting as Israeli Consul to Milan, and was instrumental in gaining recognition for the young state of Israel. He wrote more than 35 books during his lifetime...

 in the 1970s and 1980s was a strong proponent of recovering historical, Jewish, Jesus from beneath the layers of Christian mythology. Lapide saw the historical Jesus as a rabbi in the Hasidean
Hasideans
The Hasideans were a Jewish religious party which commenced to play an important role in political life only during the time of the Maccabean wars, although it had existed for quite some time previous. They are mentioned only three times in the books of the Maccabees.- Account in Maccabees:In I...

 tradition of Hillel
Hillel the Elder
Hillel was a famous Jewish religious leader, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. He is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud...

 and Hanina Ben Dosa
Hanina Ben Dosa
Hanina ben Dosa was a scholar and miracle-worker, and the pupil of Johanan ben Zakkai . He is buried in the City of Arraba....

, and in the context of Jewish independence struggle against Roman occupation. In The Myth of God Incarnate
The Myth of God Incarnate
The Myth of God Incarnate is a book edited by John Hick and published by SCM Press in 1977. James Dunn, in a 1980 literature review of academic work on the incarnation, noted the "well-publicized symposium entitled The Myth of God Incarnate, including contributions on the NT from M. Goulder and F....

 (1977), edited by John Hick
John Hick
Professor John Harwood Hick is a philosopher of religion and theologian. In philosophical theology, he has made contributions in the areas of theodicy, eschatology, and Christology, and in the philosophy of religion he has contributed to the areas of epistemology of religion and religious...

, a team of seven British theologians argued from a position within the Church that God's incarnation in Christ is mythical.

Jesus as "true myth"


Contemporary to Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Karl Bultmann was a German theologian of Lutheran background, who was for three decades professor of New Testament studies at the University of Marburg...

's interpretation of the New Testament narrative as valid theology in story form, Christian mythologists such as C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

 and J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...

 understood the narrative of Christ's sacrificial death of atonement for humanity as a "true myth" with the special property that it had been enacted historically in time and space. Lewis wrote, "the story of Christ is simply a true myth; a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference, that it really happened, and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's Myth where the others are men's myths" In this view, mythological predecessors of the "drama" of Christ were inspired glimpses of divine truth that would only become fully manifest at an appointed moment and place, viz. in Roman Judea
Iudaea Province
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

. "The Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as he found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself through what we call "real things." For these authors, the mythological elements in the story of the Christ do not undermine but rather enhance the transcendental truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 of the Gospel.

Unlike Bultmann, Lewis and Tolkien did not intend to demythologize the gospel, understanding myth as an intrinsic component of its truth. Instead, they felt a challenge to make use of their "sub-creative" powers to rework these mythemes into mythologies of their own in their works of fiction.

John Warwick Montgomery
John Warwick Montgomery
John Warwick Montgomery is a noted lawyer, professor, Lutheran theologian, and prolific author living in France. He was born October 18, 1931, in Warsaw, New York, United States. In 2007 he was named "Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought" at Patrick Henry College...

 has examined the distinctives of both Lewis and Tolkien's work as Literary Apologists. He sees Lewis as presenting Allegorical Myths as an apologetic for the comprehensiveness of Christian truth, whereas Tolkien presents Deep Myths as an apologetic for the vastness of God's Kingdom. The "mythopoeic impact" of Tolkien was greater than that of Lewis according to Montgomery's analysis.

In 1977, this line of argument received attention from academic theology, The Myth of God Incarnate, edited by John Hick
John Hick
Professor John Harwood Hick is a philosopher of religion and theologian. In philosophical theology, he has made contributions in the areas of theodicy, eschatology, and Christology, and in the philosophy of religion he has contributed to the areas of epistemology of religion and religious...

. In this volume, a team of seven British theologians takes a position from within the Church to the effect that God's incarnation in Christ is mythical. They argue that

New Testament scholarship has shown how fragmentary and ambiguous are the data available to us as we try to look back across nineteen and a half centuries, and at the same time how large and variable is the contribution of the imagination to our "pictures" of Jesus
[...]
The metaphysical uniqueness of Jesus, as traditionally taught, has always been taken to have carried with it a unique moral perfection [...] It is impossible to justify any such claim on purely historical grounds, however wide the net for evidence is cast. So far as the gospels are concerned, the material in them is too scanty, and too largely selected and organized with reference to other considerations, to provide the necessary evidence.


Michael Green
Michael Green (theologian)
Edward Michael Bankes Green is a British theologian, Anglican priest, Christian apologist and author of more than 50 Christian books.- Early life, education and ministry :...

 edited a response from evangelical theologians entitled 'The Truth of God Incarnate'.

Jesus as historical nucleus of Christian myth



Regardless of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the titles
Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament
Two names and a variety of titles are used to refer to Jesus in the New Testament.In Christianity, the two names Jesus and Emmanuel that refer to Jesus in the New Testament have salvific attributes...

 accorded to him in the New Testament and later literature clearly establish him in the tradition of both Hebrew and Hellenistic culture, as a semi-divine or deified
Apotheosis
Apotheosis is the glorification of a subject to divine level. The term has meanings in theology, where it refers to a belief, and in art, where it refers to a genre.In theology, the term apotheosis refers to the idea that an individual has been raised to godlike stature...

 hero
Hero
A hero , in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion...

 or sacred king
Sacred king
In many historical societies, the position of kingship carries a sacral meaning, that is, it is identical with that of a high priest and of judge. The concept of theocracy is related, although a sacred king need not necessarily rule through his religious authority; rather, the temporal position...

 (Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 or Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

), and as a saviour (soter
Soter
Soter derives from the Greek epithet , meaning a saviour, a deliverer; initial capitalised ; fully capitalised ; feminine Soteira...

). This circumstance is by no means in contradiction to a historical figure as outlined by the gospel, it is rather the predictable interpretation of a story of a "dead and risen Son of God" by the Hellenistic public of the early centuries AD, and during the Constantinian shift
Constantinian shift
Constantinian shift is a term used by Anabaptist and Post-Christendom theologians to describe the political and theological aspects of the 4th-century process of Constantine's legalization of Christianity. The term was popularized by the Mennonite theologian John H...

 (between the Edict of Milan
Edict of Milan
The Edict of Milan was a letter signed by emperors Constantine I and Licinius that proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire...

 of 313 and the prohibition of pagan cults by Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 in 391) even a conscious amalgamation of the tenets of the early Church Fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

 with established cult practice of Roman imperial cult. The identification of Christ with Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. In 274 Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new...

 and the establishment of the Pontifex Maximus
Pontifex Maximus
The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post...

 as the "steward of Christ" in the Roman church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 is a result of this process of amalgamation. Similarly, Christian liturgy
Christian liturgy
A liturgy is a set form of ceremony or pattern of worship. Christian liturgy is a pattern for worship used by a Christian congregation or denomination on a regular basis....

 and liturgical calendar
Liturgical year
The liturgical year, also known as the church year, consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches which determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read. Distinct liturgical colours may appear in...

 were modelled after Roman examples, e.g. the adoption of the festival of Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. In 274 Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new...

 to commemorate the Epiphany of Christ.

These aspects were taken up in Germanic Christianity
Germanic Christianity
The Germanic people underwent gradual Christianization in the course of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. By the 8th century, England and the Frankish Empire were Christian, and by AD 1100 Germanic paganism had also ceased to have political influence in Scandinavia.-History:In the 4th...

 and combined with Germanic myth
Germanic mythology
Germanic mythology is a comprehensive term for myths associated with historical Germanic paganism, including Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon mythology, Continental Germanic mythology, and other versions of the mythologies of the Germanic peoples...

, giving rise to heroic poetry
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 surrounding Christ and his sacrificial death, such as The Dream of the Rood.

Demonic imitation



The basic theme of demonic imitation is that the devil
Devil
The Devil is believed in many religions and cultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly...

 also imitated the prophecies in the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 so that he had a collection of stories similar to the ones told about Jesus. The purpose of this would be to mislead those seeking salvation
Salvation
Within religion salvation is the phenomenon of being saved from the undesirable condition of bondage or suffering experienced by the psyche or soul that has arisen as a result of unskillful or immoral actions generically referred to as sins. Salvation may also be called "deliverance" or...

 either to follow false gods or to deny that in Jesus's case these events really occurred.

Jesus as unhistorical myth


Opinions of a purely or primarily mythical Christ originate in the late 18th century with Charles François Dupuis
Charles François Dupuis
Charles François Dupuis was a French savant, a professor of rhetoric at the Collège de Lisieux, Paris, who studied for the law in his spare time and was received as avocat in 1770...

. In works published in the 1790s, both argued that numerous ancient myths, including the life of Jesus, were based on the movement of the sun through the zodiac.

The first academic advocate was the 19th century historian and theologian Bruno Bauer
Bruno Bauer
Bruno Bauer was a German philosopher and historian. As a student of GWF Hegel, Bauer was a radical Rationalist in philosophy, politics and Biblical criticism...

. Proponents such as Arthur Drews
Arthur Drews
Christian Heinrich Arthur Drews [pronounced "drefs"] was a German philosopher, writer, and important representative of German Monist thought. He was born in Uetersen, Holstein, present day Germany....

 were influential in biblical studies during the early 20th century.

The hypothesis is mostly considered obsolete in current scholarship, although a number of authors such as George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells , usually known as G. A. Wells, is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. He is best known as an advocate of the idea that Jesus is a largely mythical rather than a historical figure....

, Earl Doherty
Earl Doherty
Earl J. Doherty is a Canadian author of Challenging the Verdict , The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man...

 and Robert M. Price
Robert M. Price
Robert McNair Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including...

 have discussed similar ideas in popular literature in the 1970s to 2000s.

See also


  • Christian mythology
    Christian mythology
    Christian mythology is the body of myths associated with Christianity. In the study of mythology, the term "myth" refers to a traditional story, often one which is regarded as sacred and which explains how the world and its inhabitants came to have their present form.Classicist G.S. Kirk defines a...

  • Historicity of Jesus
    Historicity of Jesus
    The historicity of Jesus concerns how much of what is written about Jesus of Nazareth is historically reliable, and whether the evidence supports the existence of such an historical figure...

  • Christian mysticism
    Christian mysticism
    Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity. It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions...

  • Esoteric Christianity
    Esoteric Christianity
    Esoteric Christianity is a term which refers to an ensemble of spiritual currents which regard Christianity as a mystery religion, and profess the existence and possession of certain esoteric doctrines or practices, hidden from the public but accessible only to a narrow circle of "enlightened",...

  • Jesus-myth hypothesis
  • Secular theology
    Secular theology
    The field of secular theology, a subfield of liberal theology advocated by Anglican bishop John A. T. Robinson somewhat paradoxically combines secularism and theology. Recognized in the 1960s, it was influenced both by neo-orthodoxy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harvey Cox, and the existentialism of Søren...

  • Life-death-rebirth deity
    Life-death-rebirth deity
    A dying god, also known as a dying-and-rising or resurrection deity, is a god who dies and is resurrected or reborn, in either a literal or symbolic sense. Male examples include the ancient Near Eastern and Greek deities Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Attis Tammuz, Asclepius, Orpheus, as well as...


External links