Does Christianity Have Pagan Roots?

The widely watched YouTube documentary, Zeitgeist, blatantly asserts,

The reality is, Jesus was…a mythical figure….Christianity, along with all other theistic belief systems, is the fraud of the age.¹

Millions have watched Zeitgeist, in which its author Peter Joseph cites dates, doctrines and symbols supposedly “copied” by Christianity from other ancient religions—including its central person, Jesus Christ. A few of the pagan elements Joseph claims Christianity copied are:

  • Jesus had the same birthday (December 25th) as the gods Horus, Attis, Krishna, Dionysus, and Mithra.
  • Jesus was virgin born like Dionysus, Perseus, Krishna, Zoroaster and Plato.
  • Jesus rose from the dead like Horus, Osiris, Attis, Adonis and Mithras.

On the surface, there appear to be similarities between Jesus and other mythical deities. Could Zeitgeist’s claims be right?

We will simply summarize the evidence from leading scholars here. (For a more comprehensive look at Zeitgeist’s claims in light of the evidence see: http://www.alwaysbeready.com/zeitgeist-the-movie and http://conspiracies.skepticproject.com/articles/zeitgeist/part-one/).

We will discuss the first two items now and the final one in our next blog.

Same Birthday?

Did Christians copy the December 25th birthday for Jesus from the mythical gods Horus, Attis, Krishna, Dionysus, and Mithra?

Actually, the date of Jesus’ birth is never mentioned in the New Testament, nor was it celebrated by Jesus’ followers. Some biblical scholars believe Jesus was born around March or April, but the specific date is unknown.

It wasn’t until around A. D. 200 when December 25th became the day Jesus’ birth was actually celebrated (possibly to coincide with Roman pagan festivals).

December 25th, the day Jesus’ birth is celebrated by many Christians today, really has no bearing on the actual date he was born, or on his reality as a person.²

Similar Virgin Birth?

Zeitgeist also claims Christianity copied Jesus’ virgin birth from  Mithra, Horus, Dionysus, Krishna, and others. Let’s examine this claim.

  • Mithras was a Roman god born as an adult from solid rock. There simply is no record of him being virgin born.4
  • Horus was the Egyptian god born to Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris except one.5 This doesn’t even slightly resemble the account of Jesus’ virgin birth.
  • Dionysus supposedly resulted from an affair between Zeus, the king of the gods, and a mortal woman named Semele. Since Semele was a married woman, there is no account of a virgin birth.6
  • Krishna was the eighth son born to the princess Devaki and her husband Vasudeva. Once again, no account of Devaki being a virgin.

Boslooper, who studied the births of numerous religious deities wrote,

The literature of the world is prolific with narratives of unusual births, but it contains no precise analogy to the virgin birth in Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ ‘virgin birth’ is not ‘pagan.’7

In fact, the more one compares Jesus with the gods of mythology, the more apparent their differences. Dr. Thomas Thorburn explains,

All these various stories of supernatural conceptions and births…have this one point in common—they serve to point not so much to the similarity as to the complete contrast and dissimilarity which exists between the Christian birth-story and the tales which are current in various pagan circles.8

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¹ http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/.

² http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/.

³ Thomas David Boslooper, The Virgin Birth (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 138. Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miraculous_births

4 Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies. Manchester U. Press, 1975, p. 173.

5 New York Folklore Society (1973). “New York folklore quarterly,” Cornell University Press, p. 294.

6 http://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Dionysus/dionysus.html.

7 Boslooper, 136.

8 Thomas James Thorburn, A Critical Examination of the Evidences for the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth (London: 1908), 158.