Was Christianity Influenced by Mystery Religions?
- Thursday, March 04, 2010
A common refrain sung by those determined to demolish the Biblical Jesus in the court of public opinion is that His death, burial, and resurrection are myths borrowed from ancient pagan mystery religions. Once reverberating primarily through the bastions of private academia, this refrain is now also commonly heard in public arenas. A classic case in point is the following conversation between ABC News' Peter Jennings and Jesus Seminar fellow Marvin Meyer:
Peter Jennings: Some scholars think the resurrection stories were borrowed from eastern pagan cults popular throughout the Roman world at the time, called mystery religions.
Professor Marvin Meyer: The conviction was in the mysteries that there is death and resurrection, just as crops go into the ground and die and come back again for a new season in a wonderful kind of way. So also in human life we go through a kind of death and resurrection.
Peter Jennings: Now hold it. You're saying that the mystery cults had an influence on the Jesus story because people who wrote the Jesus story took an earlier story and passed it on via Jesus?
Professor Marvin Meyer: I believe so. One of the greatest difficulties that early Christians had if they were going to cope with the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus is what do you do with that? I mean, how do you keep the movement going? How do you have some hope in the face of this kind of shameful and horrible death? And one of the things I believe that early Christians did is they took the model of the mystery religions; they took that story and retold that story as the story of Jesus. 1
Within days of this television conversation, calls, letters and e-mails began arriving at the offices of the Christian Research Institute. Christians worldwide wanted to know how to respond to such prime time propaganda. Initially, we referred people to an article by Dr. Ronald Nash featured in the Christian Research Journal. 2 As requests for information continued to flood into CRI's offices, however, I realized the need for an easy-to-remember response. I've thus organized Nash's scholarly material around the memorable acronym F-A-L-S-E.
"F" in the acronym FALSE represents the fallacy of false cause. As Nash aptly notes, "Arguments offered to 'prove' a Christian dependence on the mysteries illustrate the logical fallacy of false cause. This fallacy is committed whenever someone reasons that just because two things exist side by side, one of them must have caused the other. As we all should know, mere coincidence does not prove causal connection. Nor does similarity prove dependence." 3 Far from being dependent on mystery religions, Christianity can be correctly traced back to the life of a real flesh and bone person named Jesus 4 as well as to Old Testament Judaism. By way of illustration, the Lord's Supper initiated by Christ has its historical roots firmly planted in the Jewish rite of Passover.
"A" will serve to remind you of alleged similarities. A prevailing myth widely circulated is that the similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions are striking. Purveyors of this mythology employ Biblical language and then go to great lengths to concoct commonalities. Take, for example, the alleged similarities between Christianity and the cult of Isis. The god Osiris is supposedly murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. The goddess Isis recovers the cadaver, only to lose it once again to her brother-in-law who cuts the body into fourteen pieces and scatters them around the world. After finding the parts, Isis "baptizes" each piece in the Nile River and Osiris is "resurrected." Alleged similarities as well as the terminology used to communicate them are greatly exaggerated. Parallels between the "resurrection" of Osiris and the resurrection of Christ are an obvious stretch. Likewise, Nash notes that "the fate of Osiris's coffin in the Nile is as relevant to baptism as the sinking of Atlantis." 5 Sadly for the mysteries, this is as good as it gets. As Nash elaborates in his book The Gospel and The Greeks, 6 other parallels cited by liberal scholars are even more far-fetched.
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