RESPONDblogs: Christianity Isn’t Based on Stolen Ideas

Mithra

David Robertson is in the midst of an informal debate. The discussion is around the topic “Why Christianity is Reasonable”, and David’s talking when suddenly a guy at the back of the crowd pipes up.

 

“Everything you’ve claimed that is unique about Jesus Christ can be found in pagan religions that are much much older. From resurrections to births on 25th December!”

 

Without missing a beat, David shoots back. “You sir are a great example of what is happening in this Wikipedia Generation!” Ouch. David then proceeds to explain why the man’s statement simply makes no historical sense.

 

I have friends online who regularly throw this claim at me – that Christianity is simply a rehash of older pagan ideas. Of course, Dan Brown popularized this years ago in the Da Vinci Code.

“by fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition there was created a kind of hybrid religion”.

This supposedly pre-Christian God Mithras was supposedly born on December 25th, later died, and rose again after three days.

 

It’s a great putdown to the keen yet uninformed Christian evangelist, isn’t it?

 

But it doesn’t take too long to become “informed” about the un-historic and manipulative nature of these claims. Professor Ronald Nash taught for 40 years on worldview, ethics and history. And his response to the “Christianity rehash” idea is stark.

 

1 – It is a logical fallacy to claim that – just because two things exist side by side – one MUST have caused the other.

2 – The alleged similarities between Christianity and Mithraism are exaggerated by the people who claim it. How? They exaggerate by using Christian language to refer to pagan rituals. Like for example a “Last supper” or “baptism” in Mithraism. The followers engaged in no such thing. The parallels are forced thru use of sloppy, modern language.

3 – The chronology is wrong. The sources of information about pagan mystery religions date to 400 years AFTER Christ. How can a practice – occurring hundreds of years after documented Christianity – affect Christianity? One would need a TARDIS to square that circle.

4 – The New Testament shows that Christian teaching comes originally from Judaism alone.  There was an intolerance to influence from Greek thinking.

“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers[a] of this world, rather than from Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NLT

5 – Christianity was originally (and presented thru scripture today) as an exclusive faith. One gives one’s life to following Christ. However the pagan cults were non-exclusive. One could become initiated into the cult of Mithras, and treat it as an addition to ones existing belief system.

6 – Christianity is grounded on events of history. The mystery cults were essentially non-historical, based on myths and pictures. It is a mistake to assume the events described in the New Testament to by mythological. Similarly, it’s a mistake to assume the grounding of ancient mystery religions to be historical.

7 – The parallels that remain reflect the influence of Christianity on Paganism, not the other way round. Historical record shows pagan attempts around AD360 to counter the growing influence of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world by imitating certain parts of it….offering a pagan alternative, if you like.

 

More details here:   http://www.equip.org/PDF/DB109.pdf

 

 

You know, the internet is an echo chamber for memes and ideas. I for one would like  to do what I can to feed some reason into that noise. When you look at all the information – reason suggests that because Christianity is earlier, and a different order than Mithraism, the two cannot be related. Unless, of course, Mithraism sought to emulate parts of the established Christian tradition to gain converts.

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stuartgrayuk

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

9 thoughts on “RESPONDblogs: Christianity Isn’t Based on Stolen Ideas”

  1. Part of the problem is that most mythicism is a conspiracy theory, like the belief that global warming is false, or that evolution is untrue, 9/11 was an inside job, or that Jews and liberals control the media, etc. It attempts to discredit Christianity by pointing out its similarities with other faiths in order to claim plagiarism.

    Except, similarities abound in all theistic ideologies, among them being that they are all false and not based on objective, provable, and testable methods. The actual beliefs of Mithraism, are largely unknown, but it was likely a competing religion that evolved around the same time as Christianity was spreading with similar beliefs. A number of these religions existed and really all it shows is that Christianity is not unique or special, and not that it somehow plagiarized from other faiths.

    Instead, to understand the influence of paganism on Christianity one need only look at the precursors of the Abrahamic faiths to see where the lines between paganism turn into monotheism, and then into Christianity. Before the Jewish faith was a monotheist faith it was pagan… elements of this can be seen within the old testament. Specifically terms like El, Elohim, and Asherah (god’s wife) all refer to different deities, than Yahweh, the Jewish war god. This is because Judaism evolved from the earlier Mesopotamian beliefs. The entire book of Genesis is just a rewrite of the Epic of Gilgamesh and other earlier Mesopotamian pagan mythologies, as a monotheistic mythology. (Which science has established to be false and for which there is no valid support in the natural evidence we discover.) Hell, the first commandment in both sets of ten commandments establishes that other gods must exist, lest why would one god be angry that someone put another god before him, instead of simply commanding, like the islamic god does that, “there is no god, but god?”

    By the time Jesus, allegedly came along, circa 30BCE, Judaism was exclusively a monotheistic religion. It wasn’t the only one, Zoroastrianism is another example of a monotheistic religion that evolved in the region out of Mesopotamian paganism. (As an aside Aramaic the language most likely to be spoken by Jesus was a derivative Mesopotamian language, which shows how culture and language elements of a precursor pagan society impacted the individual perpetuating the belief system.)

    Now when Christianity evolved out of Judaism, it did so as a minority cult within a wider Pagan Roman empire. The fundamental proponent of this new faith Paul, was also a monotheist, but the story of Jesus itself, which Paul helped spread out of Israel was in fact influenced by a number of pagan sources, including Greek philosophy. Your quote from number four actually supports the counterfactual to your claim. Specifically the need to warn against other philosophies, indicates that those philosophies were known to and impacting the beliefs of followers at the time it was written. After the early period of Christianity, the pro to orthodox church was filled with individuals who were familiar with greek philosophy, and as such incorporated into what would become Orthodox Christianity many elements of other ideologies and faiths. We know this, because we can read the writing of second through fourth century Christians and see how the religion evolved.

    Over time as the monotheistic Christianity has come into contact with Pagan faiths, it has adopted local gods into its ken, and made them its own. Christmas, the supposed date of Jesus’ birth, can’t be December 25th, specifically because the details of the story establish that it didn’t happen during that period. However, a number of faith celebrate similar holidays at that time and so it was convenient to encourage Pagan adoption of Christianity to incorporate those holidays.

    So while it’s correct to say Christianity is and always has been an exclusively monotheistic faith, it is incorrect to believe that other pagan beliefs and the beliefs of other pagan followers did not get incorporated into the religion. A good example of this is a non fiction book called the Devils of Loudun, in which Aldous Huxley examine early witch hunts by the inquisition in France, and discusses the Catholic Churches anger at the unwillingness of individuals to give up their early pagan beliefs and ceremonies, despite them accepting Catholicism.

    Either way, as an atheist and student of history and religion I feel your pain. Just like 9/11 conspiracy nuts, some people will believe anything, regardless of the lack of evidence to support that belief.

    1. hey man – thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my blog post. I love your comments about conspiracy theorists. Yea – I know what you mean! And the Moon Landings were faked too… 🙂

      Some thoughts for you. I wonder whether the raw, nuts and blots, eye witness testimony about the resurrection of Jesus is the starting point for considering the uniqueness of Christianity. Theres no hyperbolic language here when you review the accounts. It is honest excited reporting from a number of witnesses whos story does not immediately tie up. Massive ring of authenticity there. We don’t have a single “official” resurrection report. We have four different accounts. To me – this points toward Christianity’s uniqueness amongst the world religions. Its saying – this guy who claimed to be God actually proved it on a particular day in history. Many religions make fantastic claims, and tell wonderful stories. But nothing else surely comes as close to the physical, literal resurrection of Christ. Everything else in christian belief hinges on this.

      That’s an interesting position on the Epic of Gilgamesh. I’m not seeing a Jewish retelling of the same literature…because the narrative books in the Old Testament are telling their own perspective on Ancient Near Eastern history. What I would say is that – both the OT and Gilgamesh recount a similar flood narrative. And when you dig into other cultures around the world, they all have these very ancient flood stories that fit into their shared history. Very interesting – surely this provides some circumstantial evidence that may point to a common world wide flood (altho some would counter and say – there have been many such events throughout human history…well…i wonder if there is evidence for that position?)

      You make an interesting comment about the first commandment starting “You shall have no others gods before me ” Ex 20:3. The context of the book of exodus – and the whole Bible really is – who do people worship? Who is it that they give their hearts to? As far as the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert – it was clear that they tended to quickly switch allegance to whatever else comes along…golden calfs included. which is bizarre seeing as Yahweh had supernaturally rescued them from the egyptians. Yet such is the fickleness of out human hearts? You know i think if you see this commandment in the bible context…it questions your line of reasoning. But – interesting point nonetheless!

      I’ve got to dash – but thanks again!

      Stu

      1. I would disagree, with regard to the eyewitness accounts argument. Additionally you might want to steer away from it, because with regard to eye witness accounts, Islam’s record is better. The Quran allegedly being the recorded account of what god told Muhammed, through an angel. Further it’s not really well supported and I can pretty much logically poke an awful lot of holes.

        To begin the accounts we have are hardly eye witness accounts. Paul’s epistles, ignoring questions of true authorship, were written by people who never met the historical Jesus. (Biblical scholars agree about six of Paul’s epistles are of questionable authorship, this debate actually goes back to the codification of the New Testament)

        The accounts most often used as examples of eyewitness accounts are termed Gospels, and there are literally hundreds of different gospels. Some of these we have copies of and some have been lost to time. Most have been declared apocryphal, and only four were selected to be codified in the New Testament.

        Biblical scholars pretty much all agree that the four books, Mark, Mathew, Luke, John, are not named after their authors. In fact these are anonymous accounts, and it’s more likely than not that their authors were not in fact eye witness to the event.

        Why is it that you believe that the four codified accounts, which differ from themselves constitutes proof of veracity? We don’t know who authored them, they are filled with glaring and unreconcilable contradictions, and are of relatively dubious veracity.

        Further we know that Mark was written first, with Mathew being written soon after and being a very close copy of Mark. Luke is about seventy percent the first two, but is clearly targeted to a non Jewish audience. John of course is the last, and is the most widely linked to gnosticism and other non-orthodox sects of Christianity. Finally Paul, whose sincerity of belief is not in question, only mentions one Gospel.
        But even assuming Mark, or the Legendary Q source, was written by an apostle, who witnessed the act, it still wasn’t written down for at least 30 years, a generation or so, after the event, making it a non contemporaneous account. (Think trying to relate something that happened 30 years ago, you’d get fuzzy on the details)

        You believe that, “Nothing else comes close to the literal resurrection of Christ.” This is your belief, as a Christian if you didn’t feel that way I’d be surprised. You accept the Jesus hypothesis and as such see it through rose colored glasses. But if you look beyond the Christian narrative for more evidence to support the hypothesis you will find it lacking.

        There is no account of the events taking place in the Roman, Jewish, Egyptian, or Chinese, records for this period. In fact the earliest non-christian mentions of Jesus come decades after his alleged death and resurrection, and non mention the resurrection,(the contested amendments to Josephus being an in authentic exception) but merely note that Christians or followers of Chrestus, exist. Most of these accounts come from the later first century, early second century, and are often of questionable authenticity as the original sources themselves are not available.

        What this means is the only accounts are by individuals who we don’t actually know, about events that their non christian contemporaries were ignorant of, and who have a clear bias in that they want you to agree with their beliefs, which makes it rather hard to accept that the event was that important, or even occurred as recounted. And we also know that eye witness accounts are unreliable, especially in early history, Herodotus records eye witness accounts of Greek gods intervening in battles.

        Christianity is not unique, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and Christianity as a cultural phenomenon and belief system evolves out of a complex history and mythology. Christianity isn’t the only religion where a deity is sacrificed, while evidence of shared similarities including a dying and rising god, aren’t evidence of conspiracy or adaptation of beliefs, they are evidence of the commonness of this type of belief. Jesus also isn’t the only demi god produced between the coupling of a god and a human, Greek mythology is replete with examples.

        The Old Testament is a recorded account of the Jewish Mythology and its golden lie. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence both archeological, geological, paleontological, and biological tells us that the Old Testament’s account is not literally true. For instance we know Jericho didn’t have any walls, when Joshua allegedly blew his horn. We also know their is no evidence to support the exodus myth.

        What we do have evidence of is that the Jewish people come from Canaan and being appearing as a culture around 1,300 (BCE). We know a global flood never happened, but that our planet has gone through a series of global temperature changes, which affect sea levels, and that at the end of the last ice age approximately 110,000 years ago a lot of our costal habitat was washed away.

        What we’d consider modern humans have only been around for 150,000 years, so it makes sense that our primitive ancestors believed the whole world had flooded, when they saw global ocean’s rise. This is why independent cultures have a myth of huge floods, but no Jesus myth.

        Canaan and Mesopotamia are neighbors, and Mesopotamia was a super power at the time, it’s mythology and religious traditions were shared by a number of other satellite states and cultures. This is why the Old Testament refers to multiple gods, El, Elohim, Yahweh, are not all the same deity. In fact Elohim is a title for a personal god, and El is the name of an Akkadian (Mesopotamian) god.

        The name Asherah, and title the wife of Yahweh, is found on many inscriptions from the early Jewish history, and is also an Akkadian goddess. Her name can be found in inscriptions from the period that the inhabitants of the region, including in Israel worshipped, Baal, Ashera, Yahweh, and El.

        Exodus while not being literally true is the story of a culture being born and transitioning from it’s traditional paganism/polytheism to monotheism. Genesis as recorded is an adaptation of the local Mesopotamian mythologies, rewritten to fit within the now monotheistic narrative of Jewish people. Historically we know the Jewish people didn’t fully become Monotheists until around 200 BCE, well after they were settled and established as a unique culture.

        The Jewish people seem to switch back and forth, and get punished for it in their own narrative, largely as an explanation for why bad things happen in the world. Bad stuff happens, must be because we aren’t worshiping the right god in the right way. Polytheism, and paganism were the defacto concepts and it took thousands of years for humans to distill the multiple gods and spirits into one or two. (Depending on whether you believe the devil is an independent deity able to oppose an omniscient omnipotent being and not just an extension of that being.)

        I’d challenge you on the context of the ten commandment in the bible. Remember there are two sets of ten commandments, my favorite commandment being that one should not eat the meat of a kid(young goat) cooked in it’s mother’ milk. (Exodus 34.) The context of these commands is a a jealous deity, commanding its followers to worship no other gods than it. I’m assuming what you refer to as the bible context means, if I read this accepting the presuppositions of the bible, and that the bible is an accurate and true account of history, that I would agree with you. However, when you read this in context of what we know about this history from non biased sources, you understand that the commandment is one to maintain followers from adhering to other cults than that of Yahweh, which makes sense in a polytheistic society, where one god is ascending in popularity, and then later interpreted by an already monotheistic culture as saying it is the only god. Still by nature of the commandment not to have other gods, one infers that other gods existed, and at the very least the followers of Yahweh were aware of the existence of the belief in those other gods.

  2. Not to over whelm you, but look up the dates of the oldest copies of the old testament. The earliest fragmentary copies we have are from 300 BCE, and the oldest complete from around 150 BCE, that would mean that the Jewish people began to appear roughly a thousand years before the earliest copies of their mythology that we have. Which is huge gap between events and recordation. Now it could be argued that the books of the old testament are older than that, but even so it doesn’t lend weight to the argument that they are true, accurate and honest accounts of history.

    1. Hi man – that’s right. Some of the oldest manuscripts were discovered in Qumran. We see portions existing there from through the OT – plus a complete copy of Isaiah. And what these copies have shown is that the Masorete scribes – treated the task of transmission incredibly seriously. Comparing texts 1000 years apart – we see that 95 percent of the text is identical. The differences seen in that 5 percent amount to spelling differences. For ancient documentation of this age – where evidence is so lacking – this is an insight into the Jewish respect for these texts as Gods words.
      Does that mean they accurately record history? Not at all. But as we view the Old Testament thru the New (which you don’t seem to rate) we can see that the people of NT times viewed it in those terms.
      Ancient Near Eastern history is tough to study because of a lack of evidence. The accurately transmitted Old Testament texts are a source of incredible riches. Yet if I’m reading the tone of your response to me first comment – you dismiss them? Wow. I never get over this…historians so often hold tightly to a few scraps of information about Alexander the Great…yet reject the riches found in the carefully transmitted Jewish and early Christian writings. I believe some extra Biblical evidence does exist (as it does for New Testament claims too). I tend to view these historical sources as pieces of corroborate evidence that build up together to form a cumulative case supporting the claims of scripture.
      From memory…one of the interesting archaeological pieces is the Mernepta Stella – which gives insight into Egypt’s view of Israel as it grew in strength and influence in the region of Caanan. As recorded in the OT.
      I’ll have a read of your previous long comment and suggest some alternative and reasonable approaches to your issues. Feel free to stick with your opinions. It’s good to explore other ways of thinking tho – right mate?
      Great to chat with you.
      Stu

      1. I think you confuse correct transmission, or that a scholar could correctly translate the Old Testament with Veracity.

        Historians don’t dismiss the value of the Old Testament, they merely disagree with it’s supernatural claims, and claims that evidence contradicts, much like we’d disagree with the claims that Alexander the Great was the son of a god and a god on earth, a belief that many in his Empire held to be just as true as the Jews believed the Tanaka was the word of god.

        Yet, sincerity of belief and the fact that person hold a belief does no make ones belief true. For instance biologically speaking we know Adam and his XY chromosome could not have come first and that the whole story of the garden of Eden is not literally true, despite the fact that a lot of people have clung to this belief with sincerity.

        Certainly we have more evidence for Alexander’s existence than other historical figures. Alexander founded a large number of cities, and his existence is attested to by multiple sources from a wide array of cultures. Abraham we have no non textual evidence for, and Moses neither, but that’s the problem with ancient history.

        My point with the Old Testament, is that as a document, it does not go back to the oldest points of what we’d consider Jewish history. Instead it’s another series of books whose authorship is anonymous, and which was heavily edited before the oldest copies we have available were ever produced.

        In fact we know while it is replete with historical facts, at the same time the narrative is designed to give basis to a series of beliefs and when those beliefs conflict with reality, reality wins.

        If you really want to explore another way of thinking you should look at your methodology. Unfortunately, Theism is a subjective methodology, which creates nothing but problems. Try a non subjective methodology, like science, which have much greater and better levels of predictivity.

      2. It is tough to have our presuppositions challenged. I agree.

        I also agree that a scientific approach is VERY important when textual criticism and archaeology is used to study history. But I also suggest that to view scientific investigation as objective – is quite naive. And I say that as a qualified scientist – lol

        Anyway – cheers for now

        Stu

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