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?

Eyewitnesses…

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.

11 comments
  1. Good article. A fun topic. A similar question comes around from demi-gods like Dionysus the son of Zeus through the woman Semele. But, the difference is seen in Athanasius rebuke of Arius and Arianism. Jesus is not created by God. Jesus is “begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.” (Nicean Creed in 325 AD) New Testament teaching as present by Athanasius is NOT copied from any ancient myth from Egypt, Greece or ancient Babylon (see Tammuz, Ezekiel 8:14, his mom Semiramis, and his dad, Nimrod, Genesis 10:8). The best a pagan God could do was produce a child, or reincarnate themselves. Jesus Christ is Immanuel. He IS God. He is the eternal God from the ancient days. He is God with us. This was the first time, the only time. The only-begotten. Pagan myths and modern cults will never touch this. In fact, if it were not for Athanasius’ bold stance at Nicea in front of Constantine in 325 Christianity may have (hypothetically) lost this revelation and continued to follow Arius. Then, the critics would have good ground to say the church had copied the pagan mystery cults. Arius had reduced Jesus to a demi-god. At that point, I imagine, Christianity would have unraveled quickly.

    Keep up the great work, Shane!

  2. This isn’t really a silly objection at all. Frankly it’s the best objection there is to Christianity, and the fact of the matter is that the Judeo-Christian mythos owes a lot to other religions, particularly religions that we consider “pagan” today.

    The resurrection motif goes back to Osiris (not Horus, Shane), and before that Gilgamesh. Not to mention things from the OT like the flood story have traditions in dozens of other “pagan” religions, including Gilgamesh and Deucalion.

    For example, “consider the birds” comes directly from a Roman philosopher named Gaius Musonius Rufus, who the Gospels borrow from liberally. You say that the “eye witnesses” of the Gospels are more than enough for any prosecuting attorney and while that may be true if they were actually testifying in court under penalty of perjury, these so-called witnesses are writing under false names to assist in their own agendas. There are no mentions of
    Christ among hist contemporary writers, the earliest in Suetonius and Josephus are generally considered to be forgeries by Josephus.

    It’s better not to white-wash this, Shane, because ultimately it’s going to weaken your argument. I noticed you can’t cite any of you sources in this article, and your argument is generally very weak. If you have to have history back up your faith, then you need to work on strengthening your faith, not attempting shoddy history. Honesty compels us to recognize that the historical case for Christ is exceedingly weak, and I am not impressed with you poor attempt here, Shane.

    Keep God in your heart, follow what Jesus taught, but if you have to disbelieve that what the best science and history in order to keep your faith, you have other problems that history isn’t going to solve!
    .-= Guy Incognito´s last blog ..Use Your Brains =-.

  3. Also, you refer to Isaiah 7:14 as if it is actually a prophecy of vrgin birth, case closed. Far from it!

    Isaiah 7:14 is commonly cited to suggest that the virgin birth is a fulfilled prophecy. This is problematic. The Hebrew word that Christians common translate as “virgin” is almah (וְיֹלֶדֶת), and is more properly translated as “young woman” or “maiden.” Indeed all modern translated Jewish editions of the Tanach translate it as such. Moreover there is a Hebrew word “betulah” that actually does mean virgin, so it that is what the writer meant, it’s the word he would have used.

    Only in Christian translations is this improper translation upheld. Interestingly, the source of this mistranslation goes back to the time of Christ Himself, when the mistake was first made. The Septuagint translated “almah” as “parthenos” the Greek word for virgin. Thus, if we are looking at it objectively it seems much more reasonable to conclude that the story of Christ’s virgin birth is a concoction of a Greek speaker who was only familiar with the popular Greek translation than an actual fulfillment of a prophecy. Truly, there is no such prophecy, all Isiah 7:14 is saying is that the messiah will be born of a young woman, which is not a prophecy at all!

    History is not the friend of Christian apologetics, and that’s OK.

    1. @Wintery Knight, I disagree, I find that the sort of “university auditorium” consensus you’re putting so much stock in can have wildly different results and depends more on personal charisma than facts. Look at famed atheist Christopher Hitchens who almost always “wins” his debates by the consensus of the audience (I’m loathe to post a link but Hitchens recent “won” such a debate against a Cardinal and a British MP, claiming that the Catholic Church was a force for good in the word, quite distressing in my view). And I am listening to your audio right and despite the help of a friendly audience Craig looks like a fool compared to Price.
      .-= Guy Incognito´s last blog ..Use Your Brains =-.

  4. I’m glad you’re listening to the debate. I also recommend Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig. Since Hitchens presented no arguments for atheism and could not refute ONE of Craig’s five arguments, I’m sure you’ll think Hitchens won, even though none of the atheist sites like Debunking Christianity or Constructive Atheism thought so – they thought it was a landslide.
    .-= Wintery Knight´s last blog ..David Warren on western civilization and the place of pleasure =-.

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