I was asked a question out of the blue last night on Facebook from somebody I’m not connected to, but has been a reader of Caffeinated Thoughts. The person wondered if I had any thoughts on the whole “Horus and Mithra controversy” that is often related to Jesus by those who want to debunk Christianity.
Interesting question. I’ve never had anybody use that argument on me before. To quickly sum up the “controversy”…
Horus was the falcon-headed god that most ancient Egyptians associated themselves with. The Pharaoh was supposed to be his earthly embodiment. He was associated with Khepera (form of the ancient Egyptian sun god Re) as a symbol of resurrection or eternal life.
Mithra was originally an ancient Persian god of light and the cosmic order who was said to have been born from a rock or cave. Later on the cult of Mithra became popular with Roman soldiers. To the Romans, Mithra was known as Deus Sol Invictus – the Unconquered Sun God. Some also say that Mithra also had 12 disciples and was buried in a tomb and was raised 3 days later.
So the basic premise is that since Horus and Mithra both pre-date the New Testament, Christianity merely borrowed from that mythology ascribing to Jesus the virgin birth, the disciples, the tomb, and the resurrection.
Tackling Mithra first… a rock is considered a virgin? Um, no. While Mithra predates the New Testament, the earliest reference of the rock birth of Mithra is actually 100 years after Christ. Then there is also the Old Testament prophecies found in Isaiah 7:14. Regarding Mithra having 12 disciples and also being resurrected there is no factual basis that any of these were actually ascribed to Mithra. The source of this controversy is likely the book The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. It would actually seem that they are borrowing from Christianity and ascribing it to Mirtranian worship, not the other way around.
Regarding Mithra’s death, there is no known story pre-dating Christ in the ancient Greco-Roman world that even mentions his death, let alone being buried in a tomb and raising three days later. So this claim doesn’t have any merit as well.
Regarding Horus, looking on the internet there is much attributed to Horus that was never attributed to him by the ancient Egyptians… so again who is borrowing from who? There is very little similarity between Jesus and Horus. The only thing that would leave is Horus being a symbol of the Resurrection.
Myths typically take generations to develop. To claim, for instance, that the resurrection is only a borrowed myth could be plausible if it were only mentioned hundreds of years after Christ, but that isn’t the case. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, the Apostle Paul writes:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, (ESV).
Paul is delivering what he also received. Most scholars believe that 1 Corinthians was written anywhere between 50-60 A.D. However the Pauline epistles in general contain creedal summaries, of which 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is one, that date between 35-40 A.D. The creed above is the earliest, and is argued that it’s date is 33-38 A.D. If Christ was crucified in 30 A.D. that would mean this creed existed anywhere from 3-8 years after. Not nearly enough time for a myth to develop surround Christ’s death. Why?
Eyewitness accounts which are typically considered to be proof in a legal context. You have the eyewitness account of three of the gospel writers – Matthew, Mark and John who saw the resurrected Christ. Luke interviewed numerous eyewitnesses, (Luke 1:1-2). Then you had Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9-11, note that the disciples didn’t believe her), other nameless women (Matthew 28:9-10), the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35; Mark 16:12-13), Peter (Luke 24:34), all of the apostles on numerous occasions (Luke 24:36-43; Mark 16:14-18; Matthew 28:16-17; John 20:19-23; 21:1-25; and Acts 1:3-8). You had Thomas who doubted and needed proof (John 20:24-29). You then have a summary list in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, of which it mentions that over 500 saw Jesus at one time.
That’s a pretty convincing list that any prosecuting attorney or defense lawyer would love to have.
Any one of them could have debunked the resurrection claim. When Luke gave the account of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 when he said…
…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held up by it, (Acts 2:23-24, ESV).
Those being preached to would have said, not true! And Christianity would have been halted there. There were hostile witnesses present, they could have objected. One thing they could have done that would absolutely destroyed Christianity in its infancy… produce the body.
Where’s the body?
Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb. Was it the wrong tomb? Would the women who went to Jesus’ tomb and the men who went to check it out both have gone to the wrong tomb? Would the Jewish authorities who had a Roman guard placed at the tomb be wrong about it’s location? No. Did they hallucinate? Psychology wouldn’t back that claim up. Maybe Jesus wasn’t dead, perhaps he just swooned. Think about that for moment.
Beaten, scourged prior to his crucifixion (which had been known to kill victims), nails driven through his feet and wrists, hours on the cross, loss of blood, dehydration, was likely in shock, and then was stabbed by a Roman spear to make sure he was dead. After all that he was placed in an airless tomb with a huge stone placed in front. That would have killed him if he weren’t dead before, not to mention he wouldn’t have had the strength to move the stone.
Perhaps his body was stolen, the Jewish authorities were worried about this possibility so they had Roman guards placed. Guards who would have been under penalty of death if they went AWOL or were caught sleeping on duty. Jewish leaders told the guards that they would satisfy the governor and keep them out of trouble after telling them to tell people his body was stolen while they fell asleep, (Matthew 28:11-15). Some would say, the Jewish leaders or Romans moved it. All they would have had to do was produce it.
So where’s the body?
Ultimately the best proof lies with the first disciples who willingly gave their lives for their faith. They were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, why would they allow themselves to be martyred when in many cases all it meant was denying Jesus as Lord.
If he were dead would that be hard to do? But yet they didn’t. Because it isn’t a myth. They were serving a Risen Lord.