I was watching Bill Maher interview while promoting his documentary Religulous. At one point he stated that what sealed his rejection of the Christian religion was his realization that it all happened before. The Christian story consisted merely of pieces-parts from various pagan myths. Bill claimed that the son of God, born of a virgin, born in a stable on December 25th, announced by a star in the east, visited by three wise men, baptized at age 30, delivering the sermon on the mount, having 12 disciples, walking on water, being crucified between two thieves and rising on the third day, were all derived from pagan myths. He then launched into his familiar bit about how rational, scientific people don’t believe in “drinking the blood of a 2,000 year-old space god.”
I was shocked. I am pretty familiar with the 1st century and the ancient near east, and the contours of ancient religious belief, and I am very familiar with Biblical scholarship. The suggestion that Christianity is substantially like ancient mythological religion is a highly improbable thesis. Of course I am aware that there are plenty of myths about dying and rising gods. But this dying and rising always signified the change of the seasons – the conquering of winter by spring. This parallel is utterly unremarkable.
Although these myths spoke of the cycle of nature, the ability to overcome death answers our deepest longings and fears. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection is not that Christians were the first ever to conceive of a resurrection. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it actually happened! Some also have suggested Christian dependence upon the mystery religions that were popular at that time, although this theory has been thoroughly exploded. The New Testament is utterly distinct in character and world-view from these mystery religions and from pagan mythology in general.
But Bill was suggesting that there are very specific parallels in mythology to the life of Christ – to the extent that it would be easy to convict the Gospel writers of plagiarism. I wondered, however, why I had never come across the particular parallels in the scholarly literature I have read. I soon discovered the reason. These parallels do not exist.
Nevertheless, the Internet is filled with these claims. There are perhaps hundreds of “cyber scholars” repeating these claims: cutting and pasting their evidence. The “evidence” is always the bald assertion, never accompanied by primary source documentation. Most of this seems to trace back to Acharya S’s book, The Christ Conspiracy, and to a handful of other Christ-mythers. Jesus is most frequently compared with the Egyptian god Horus, the son of the gods Isis and Osiris, who bestowed divinity upon the Pharaohs as incarnations of his life.
To debunk the particular examples of the Jesus/Horus connection all you need to do is to wade through the Egyptian book of the Dead or look up books or Encyclopedia articles on Egyptian Mythology and Horus. You can link here to an article that debunks these claims with the same brevity with which they are made. In the end you will discover that the closest we come to a substantial parallel between Horus and Jesus is that one of the three birth dates given for Horus corresponds to December 25. This date also appears in other myths as well. Unfortunately for the Christ-mythers this is not a date given in the Bible and there is no evidence Jesus was born on Dec 25. The reason the Church picked that day to celebrate the nativity was precisely so that Christians might commandeer the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and appropriate it for new use.
The Horus = Jesus thesis has as much credibility as 2012 doomsday predictions that supposedly draw from the Mayan calendar and coded messages of the Tao Te Ching. And yet Bill Maher, smugly claiming the side of logic and enlightenment, relies on these pseudo-scholars and pajama-bloggers in an effort to debunk Christianity!
As our nation becomes increasingly secular, the popular case against Christ has become increasingly sensational and absurd. We saw this clearly illustrated a few years back with Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller, The De Vinci Code. Certainly an intelligent person can find reasons to disbelieve the Gospel accounts, if they desire to find such reasons. But perhaps the case against Christ is too subtle for those with less than a professional interest in the subject. Perhaps more people can see through the enlightenment presuppositions on which the case against Christ is built (if you preclude God and the miraculous a priori, then you are in fact concealing the conclusion in the premise, thus begging the question). Or perhaps as we become more religiously ignorant as a culture, we become more easily swayed by lazy and fantastical arguments.
It is easy also for an intelligent person to discover cogent reasons to believe. The books of the Bible fit very comfortably within the context of their contemporary culture, and hold up well under rigorous scholarship. Internally, they are remarkably consistent, with parallel narrative accounts containing just enough dissonance to disprove collusion. These are large topics which if you are interested in exploring in depth, I would recommend, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, by Kenneth Kitchen and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, by Richard Bauckam. Both are top-tier scholars and offer extensive interaction with the primary sources and current scholarship.
C.S. Lewis, the Renaissance English scholar, once bought into popular atheistic theories regarding the mythological origins of Christianity, without giving it much serious thought. In Surprised by Joy he writes of the event that caused him to look a second time at Christianity. He writes,
“Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. ‘Rum thing,’ he went on. ‘All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.’ To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not – as I would still have put it – ‘safe,’ where could I turn? Was there then so escape?” Subsequently, writes Lewis, “God closed in on me.”
If God is closing in on you, why not let him close in all the way? We all ought to acknowledge that the ultimate problems of our existence, such as death and the self-centeredness that gives death its sting, finds its only remedy in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.