Jesus Christ in comparative mythology

Jesus Christ in comparative mythology
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The study of Jesus from a mythographical perspective is the examination of the narrative of Jesus, the Christ ("the Anointed") of the gospels, Christian theology and folk Christianity as a central part of Christian mythology. It has been noted since antiquity, and in modern scholarship since the 19th century, that Jesus Christ has striking parallels to other deities worshipped in Hellenistic religion, specifically to the cult of Dionysus in the Greek mystery religions and with the Buddha.

The study of Jesus Christ in the terms of a myth is popularly associated with a skeptical position toward the historicity of Jesus, dubbed the "Christ myth theory", and James D.G. Dunn opines that "Myth is a term of at best doubtful relevance to the study of Jesus and the Gospels."[1]

However, various authors have argued that the study of parallels between the narrative of Christ and other mythological figures does not prejudice Jesus' historicity, and is open to several interpretations besides ahistoricity[citation needed]:

  1. Christianity's influence on the Mystery religions (e.g. Augustine of Hippo)
  2. Interpretation of mythological parallels as "diabolical imitation" of Christ (e.g. Justin Martyr)
  3. Interpretation of pre-Christian myth as a product of degraded Urmonotheismus (various 20th century Christian apologetics)
  4. Interpretation of the Christ narrative as "true myth" (e.g. C. S. Lewis)
  5. Admission of a historical Jesus, who is however of lesser interest to Christianity than the Christ myth (e.g. C. G. Jung)


New Testament narrative

Early Christian image of the Good Shepherd. Fourth century.

According to the New Testament, Jesus was a first century Galilean Jewish teacher who was hailed as the promised Jewish Messiah. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

Connected to his Messianic credentials he is a descendant of the royal blood of David. At his crucifixion the Romans referred to him as King of the Jews. He is the predestined Saviour, recognized at birth by magi, but has to avoid being killed by Herod, by fleeing into exile. As an infant, he is part of the Holy Family often associated with the Holy Trinity in Christian symbolism.

As a grown man, he is baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus is identified as the Son of God and receives the Spirit of God in a form similar to a dove. After withstanding temptation in the wilderness, he attracts a body of followers, the Twelve Apostles, and wanders around the land preaching and performing miraculous healing. Especially noteworthy among his miracles, he displays the ability to transfer his powers to very ordinary peoples (sending out the 12 and the 70). In one instance, his transfiguration in front of his closest followers again reveals him as the Son of God, conversing with two important prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah.

Following a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the Last Supper where he gives a final sermon, he is betrayed, apprehended, flogged, and driven out to the place of execution, where he is crucified, accompanied by dark omens, both chthonic (earthquakes) and celestial (eclipse).

He dies and his body is prepared for interment and placed in a tomb. On the third day he rises from the dead and appears bodily resurrected to his followers, before miraculously ascending to heaven. For his death to atone for humanity, he is given the title Lamb of God, after the sacrificial lamb of Hebrew tradition, and as the Christ (Messiah, Anointed) in reference to his fulfilling of prophecies of a royal saviour. His followers are given the divine spirit in order to carry on his mission, and clearly display the powers once again that they had utilized when he had empowered them in person. Now (at 'Pentecost' after Christ's ascencion return to the 'spirit-realm') these powers include an unusual "language power' (tongues-glossolalia) providing communication in languages the speakers had not known. The language power is also described as the 'soul strengthening' practice or excercise of 'praying/singing in the HolySpirit 'Presence of Christ'. This activity is found in 'Christ followers' to this day, especially through 'revivals' and 'outpourings of the spirit'. The disciples are charged with ritually commemorating his death in the sacrament of the Eucharist, involving symbolic ingestion of Christ's body. Making this 'celebration of Christs body and blood' is seen as a repetitive fulfillment of , the Pesach or Passover celebrated for atonement for sin. In the early followers this seems to have been preceded by an 'Agape feast' open to visitors, joyful singing repeating scripture and confessing faults in preparation, then a dismissal of all visitors or observers for the intimate 'eucharist' of believers.[2]

Jesus is attributed the titles Son of God and Son of Man and he is identified as God incarnate as the Logos. As both man and God the early church defined Jesus as fully God and fully man at the same time in hypostatic union. A triumphal Second Coming of Christ is prophesized in Christian eschatology, when he will preside over the Last Judgment and heralding in a golden Messianic Age or Kingdom of God for the faithful.

Comparative mythology

Themes pointed to include sacral kingship and "theophagy", the eating of the body of a fertility god, traced by Walter Burkert to a neolithic fertility rite surrounding a god who needs to die and rise again in order to feed the community, sublimated in the Christian eucharist.

Among the comparanda, observation of mere mythic universals or "archetypes" needs to be distinguished from claims of historical influence, or common historical origin.[original research?] Only when features can be shown to be parallel in highly specific detail can a common origin be assumed.[original research?] Otherwise, there is a danger of 'parallelomania', as Samuel Sandmel (1962) calls it, the excessive and superficial identification of what are really archetypes.[3]

Dionysus and the Greek mysteries

The Greek Eleusinian Mysteries were an initiation cult surrounding Demeter, her daughter Persephone, and the agricultural hero Triptolemus. The derived Hellenistic Orphic traditions syncretized Greek traditions with Egyptian and Mesopotamian elements. In the Orphic tradition, it is Dionysus who is killed and resurrected. Orphism puts strong emphasis on salvation in the afterlife. Orphism and Hermeticism strongly influenced Platonist mysticism which in turn was a formative influence on late antique Christian theology.

The opening salvo of debates concerning mythological parallels between Dionysus and the figure of the Christ in Christian theology can be traced to Friedrich Hölderlin, whose identification of Dionysus with Christ is most explicit in Brod und Wein (1800–1801) and Der Einzige (1801–1803).[4] Modern scholars such as Martin Hengel, Barry Powell, and Peter Wick, among others, argue that Dionysian religion and Christianity have notable parallels.

They point to the symbolism of wine and the importance it held in the mythology surrounding both Dionysus and Jesus Christ;[5][6] though, Wick argues that the use of wine symbolism in the Gospel of John, including the story of the Marriage at Cana at which Jesus turns water into wine, was intended to show Jesus as superior to Dionysus.[7]

Additionally, some scholars of comparative mythology argue that both Dionysus and Jesus represent the "dying-and-returning god" mythological archetype.[8] Other elements, such as the celebration by a ritual meal of bread and wine, also have parallels.[9] Powell, in particular, argues precursors to the Christian notion of transubstantiation can be found in Dionysian religion.[9]

Another parallel can be seen in The Bacchae wherein Dionysus appears before King Pentheus on charges of claiming divinity is compared to the New Testament scene of Jesus being interrogated by Pontius Pilate.[7][9][10]

E. Kessler in a symposium Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire, Exeter, 17–20 July 2006, argues that Dionysian cult had developed into strict monotheism by the 4th century CE; together with Mithraism and other sects the cult formed an instance of "pagan monotheism" in direct competition with Early Christianity during Late Antiquity.[11]

Ancient Egypt

Above is a statue of Isis, the wife and sister of Osiris, nursing their child Horus dating from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt; "The iconography of Horus either influenced or was appropriated in early Christian art. Isis and the baby Horus may often be seen as precursor for Mary and the infant Jesus"[12]
15th century painting by Fra Filippo Lippi of the Madonna and child.

Self-taught amateur Egyptologist Gerald Massey argued that the deity of Horus and Jesus shared identical mythological origins in his 1907 book Ancient Egypt, the light of the world.[13] His views have been repeated by theologian and Toronto Star columnist Tom Harpur, author Acharya S, and political comedian Bill Maher.[14][15][16] Theologian W. Ward Gasque composed an e-mail to twenty leading Egyptologists, including Professor Emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool Kenneth Kitchen, and Professor of Egyptology at the University of Toronto Ron Leprohan. The e-mail detailed the comparisons alleged by Massey which had been repeated by Harpur. The scholars were unanimous in dismissing any similarities suggested by Massey, and one Egyptologist criticized the comparison as "fringe nonsense."[17]

To the right a 15th century painting by Fra Filippo Lippi of the Madonna. On the left Isis and Horus, respectively the wife-sister and son of Osiris. "When Christianity was spreading across the Empire, it's clear that it deliberately took images from the pagan world in which it lived and into which it spread and used those images."[18] Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge suggests possible connections or parallels in Osiris' resurrection story with those found in Christianity:

"The Egyptians of every period in which they are known to us believed that Osiris was of divine origin, that he suffered death and mutilation at the hands of the powers of evil, that after a great struggle with these powers he rose again, that he became henceforth the king of the underworld and judge of the dead, and that because he had conquered death the righteous also might conquer death...In Osiris the Christian Egyptians found the prototype of Christ, and in the pictures and statues of Isis suckling her son Horus, they perceived the prototypes of the Virgin Mary and her child."[19]

Biblical scholar Bruce M. Metzger notes that in one account of the Osirian cycle he dies on the 17th of the month of Athyr (approximating to a month between October 28 and November 26 in modern calendars), is revivified on the 19th and compares this to Christ rising on the "third day" but thinks "resurrection" is a questionable description.[20] In contrast Christ Myth proponent George Albert Wells refers to Plutarch's account and asserts that Osiris dies and is mourned on the first day and that his resurrection is celebrated on the third day with the joyful cry "Osiris has been found". He also argues that St. Paul's comparison of bodily resurrection with a seed being planted, and corn then growing (1 Cor 15:35-38), is based on Ancient Egyptian concepts in which the germinating seeds in Osiris beds represent resurrection.[21]

Osiris-Nepra, with wheat growing from his body. From a bas-relief at Philae.[22] The sprouting corn implied resurrection.[23]

Plutarch and others have noted that the sacrifices to Osiris were “gloomy, solemn, and mournful...” (Isis and Osiris, 69) and that the great mystery festival, celebrated in two phases, began at Abydos on the 17th of Athyr[24] (November 13) commemorating the death of the god, which is also the same day that grain was planted in the ground. “The death of the grain and the death of the god were one and the same: the cereal was identified with the god who came from heaven; he was the bread by which man lives. The resurrection of the god symbolized the rebirth of the grain.” (Larson 17) The annual festival involved the construction of “Osiris Beds” formed in the shape of Osiris, filled with soil and sown with seed.[25] The germinating seed symbolized Osiris rising from the dead. An almost pristine example was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter.[26]

Osiris "The God Of The Resurrection", rising from his bier.[27]

The first phase of the festival was a public drama depicting the murder and dismemberment of Osiris, the search of his body by Isis, his triumphal return as the resurrected god, and the battle in which Horus defeated Set. This was all presented by skilled actors as a literary history, and was the main method of recruiting cult membership. According to Julius Firmicus Maternus of the fourth century, this play was re-enacted each year by worshippers who “beat their breasts and gashed their shoulders.... When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined...they turn from mourning to rejoicing.” (De Errore Profanorum).

The passion of Osiris is reflected in his name 'Wenennefer" ("the one who continues to be perfect"), which also alludes to his post mortem power.[28]

Parts of this Osirian mythology have prompted comparisons with later Christian beliefs and practices.

Egyptologist Erik Hornung observes that Egyptian Christians continued to mummify corpses (an integral part of the Osirian beliefs) until it finally came to an end with the arrival of Islam and argues for an association between the passion of Jesus and Osirian traditions, particularly in the apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus and Christ's descent into Hades. He concludes that whilst Christianity rejected anything "pagan" it did so only at a superficial level and that early Christianity was "deeply indebted" to Ancient Egypt."[29]

David J. MacLeod argues that the resurrection of Osiris differs from Jesus Christ, saying:

"Perhaps the only pagan god for whom there is a resurrection is the Egyptian Osiris. Close examination of this story shows that it is very different from Christ's resurrection. Osiris did not rise; he ruled in the abode of the dead. As biblical scholar, Roland de Vaux, wrote, 'What is meant of Osiris being "raised to life?" Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence. But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead. This revived god is in reality a "mummy" god.'... No, the mummified Osiris was hardly an inspiration for the resurrected Christ... As Yamauchi observes, 'Ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death. But it is a mistake to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the biblical doctrine of resurrection. To achieve immortality the Egyptian had to meet three conditions: First, his body had to be preserved by mummification. Second, nourishment was provided by the actual offering of daily bread and beer. Third, magical spells were interred with him. His body did not rise from the dead; rather elements of his personality - his Ba and Ka - continued to hover over his body.'"[30]

A. J. M. Wedderburn further argues that resurrection in Ancient Egypt differs from the "very negative features" in Judaeo-Christian tradition, as the Ancient Egyptians conceived of the afterlife as entry into the glorious kingdom of Osiris.[31]

Marvin Mayer notes that some scholars regard the idea of dying and rising deities in the mystery religions as being fanciful but suggests this may be motivated by apologetic concerns, attempting to keep Christ's resurrection as a unique event. In contrast he argues that the ancient story of dying and rising in the divine, human and crops, (with Osiris as an example), is vindicated and reaches a conclusion in Christianity.[32]

Mother and child parallel

Isis nursing Horus, (Louvre)

Some believe that the close maternal relationship between Isis and Horus presented in ancient Egyptian imagery were incorporated into later Christian iconography.[17][33] In particular, the depictions of Mary and Jesus from Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Black Madonna of Częstochowa share many similarities to extant ancient Egyptian art depictions of Horus and Isis.[34] Egyptologist Erik Hornung wrote that "There was an obvious analogy between the Horus child and the baby Jesus and the care they received from their sacred mothers; long before Christianity, Isis had borne the epithet 'mother of the god.'"[35]

This is the result of early Christian exposure to Egyptian art. In a survey of "twenty leading Egyptologists" by Dr. W. Ward Gasque, a Christian scholar, found that all who responded recognised "that the image of the baby Horus and Isis has influenced the Christian iconography of Madonna and Child" but that there were no other similarities, e.g. no evidence that Horus was born of a virgin, had twelve followers, etc.[36]

Child deities

[37] Shed is an Ancient Egyptian deity, popularly called, 'the savior' and is first recorded after the Amarna Period.[38] Representing the concept of salvation he is identified with Horus and in particular "Horus the Child".[39] Rather than have formal worship in a temple or as an official cult, he appears to have been a god that ordinary Egyptians looked to save them from illness, misfortune or danger.[40] He is shown on the Metternich Stela as vanquishing danger in the form of a serpent, a scorpion and a crocodile.[41]

The rise of "Savior" names in personal piety during the Amarna period has been interpreted as the popular response of ordinary people to the attempts by Akhenaten to proscribe the ancient religion of Egypt. Shed has also been viewed as a form of the ancient Semitic god Reshef.[42] Shed can be depicted as a young prince overcoming snakes, lions and crocodiles.[43]

Shed has been viewed as a form of savior, a helper for those in need when state authority or the Kings help is wanting. The increased reliance on divine assistance could even extend to saving a person from the underworld, even to providing a substitute, and lengthening a person's time in this world. In the New Kingdom Shed "the savior" is addressed on countless stelae by people searching or praising him for help.[44]


The worship of Mithras was widespread in much of the Roman Empire from the mid-2nd century CE.[45][46] The Mithra cult in the Roman Empire was a syncretism of different religious motifs, centered on the god Mithras who emerges from a rock. Its closest similarities to Christianity are the story of the slaying of the bull by Mithras; a bull is captured and killed by Mithras when he plunges a knife into it and from the dead bull grain and plants are produced, that symbolize life. Mithras was a solar deity, closely associated with the Roman Sol Invictus.[47]

Old Testament

The gospels present Jesus as a figure rooted in and foretold by the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, notably the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Daniel. Thus, Jesus' nativity is placed in Bethlehem to comply with Micah 5:2, and Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem is designed to answer Zechariah 9:9-10.

A small amount of material is unique to the gospel of Matthew, that is, not reconstructed for the hypothetical source document of the synoptic gospels ("Q"). In this Jesus is presented with strong parallels to Old Testament figures, most noticeably Moses.

Work done by prominent Q scholars such as John Kloppenborg identifies Q's genre as ancient Near-Eastern "instruction", which consistently attributes its wisdom to a human figure and not the personified Wisdom that one finds in the biblical book of Proverbs.[48]

Also included among the Messianic prophecies was Virgil's Eclogue IV, which significantly contributed to Virgil's status as a virtuous pagan.


While historians of early Christianity concentrate on parallels with myths current in the Greco-Roman and Semitic cultures of the 1st century, parallels were also claimed to have been found in Buddhism. In some cases, these have been interpreted as having a direct influence on early Christianity.[49][50]

The possible influence of Buddhism on Christianity (and possibly of the Essenes) has been suggested, but with more emphasis on doctrine than mythology. Nevertheless, it has been noted that the life of Christ bears strong similarities to the life of Buddha. This was initially interpreted by certain Catholic missionaries in terms of the "demonic imitation" theory.[51] More recently it has been taken by some scholars as far as a "Copycat Christ" theory, postulating that Jesus is simply a Judaistic retelling of the story of Buddha. Thus, T. W. Doane in his 1882 Bible Myths opined that "nothing now remains for the honest man to do but acknowledge the truth, which is that the history of Jesus of Nazareth as related in the books of the New Testament, is simply a copy of that of Buddha, with a mixture of mythology borrowed from other nations." (p. 286)

Max Müller in his 1873 Introduction to the Science of Religion noted that

"Between the language of The Buddha and his disciples, and the language of Christ and his apostles, there are strange coincidences. Even some Buddhist legends and parables sound as if taken from the New Testament, though we know that many of them existed before the beginning of the Christian era."

Th. J. Plange in 1906 concluded that early Christianity was the product of Buddhist missionaries. Such ideas were critically reviewed by Richard Garbe in his 1914 Indien und das Christentum. Garbe noted that the similarities between Christian and Buddhist tradition have invited much dilettante speculation, but he nevertheless acknowledged some possible influence, in particular on later Christian legend (suggesting that Josaphat is a corrupted form of Bodhisattva, and identifying Eustachius and Hubertus with Samantabhadra). Garbe accepted the historicity of Christ, but identified four passages[which?] in the gospel narrative as borrowed from Buddhist scripture.

Jesus and Hinduism

There has been speculation that Jesus lived in India for a while.

ISKON (the Hare Krishna religion) has stated that it sees Krishna/Vishnu as similar to Jesus and a good alternative.

Some Hindus worship Jesus and the Virgin Mary, though this practice is not an official part of Hinduism.

Influence of the gospels on other mythologies

Jesus has in turn left traces in other mythologies. This holds for 2nd to 3rd century mystery religions and the emergence of Gnosticism; in Reinventing Jesus, the authors put forth the position that "Only after 100 A.D. did the mysteries begin to look very much like Christianity, precisely because their existence was threatened by this new religion. They had to compete to survive."[52]

Within Christian culture, the Christ myth is reflected in many allegories or mythologies, in post-Nicean apocrypha such as the Acts of Pilate, in medieval Mystery plays, Piers Plowman, The Pilgrim's Progress, Milton's Paradise Lost (and, more pertinent to Christ, Paradise Regained), sometimes advocated as historical (such as the "Jesus bloodline" theories), sometimes ostensibly "pure myth" or Biblical speculative fiction (such as C. S. Lewis' Narnia).

History and Interpretation

In current scholarly discussion, the application of foreign myth to understanding Jesus and the New Testament gospels is of doubtful relevance.[53] Scholars look towards understanding Jesus within first century Judean Judaism as opposed to pre- and post-Christian mythologies. However, current theories surrounding the mythological aspects of the Christ arose from 19th century scholarship on the formation of myth, in the work of writers such as Max Müller and James Frazer. Müller argued that religions originated in mythic stories of the birth, death, and rebirth of the Sun. Frazer further attempted to explain the origins of humanity's mythic beliefs in the idea of a "sacrificial king", associated with the Sun as a dying and reviving god and its connection to the regeneration of the earth in springtime.[54] Frazer did not doubt the historicity of Jesus, however, stating, "my theory assumes the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth... The doubts which have been cast upon the historical reality of Jesus are...unworthy of serious attention."[54]

Myth as a category describing the miraculous in the Gospels came to prominence in the nineteenth century, especially by D.F. Strauss who included all the miraculous in the Gospels. For Strauss, myth was interpreted as the expression of an idea in narrative form in contrast to a truly historical event.[55] James D.G. Dunn describes the logic behind this movement as: "Since “myth” was used as a category to describe the foundational stories of other religions, including miraculous births and the like, why should it be withheld from the equivalent stories about Jesus?"[55] However, the impact of Strauss' approach to the miraculous and understanding of myth have not lasted.[55][56]

The most influential of the books arguing for a mythic Jesus was Arthur Drews's The Christ-Myth (1909) which brought together the scholarship of the day in defence of the idea that Christianity had been a Jewish Gnostic cult that spread by appropriating aspects of Greek philosophy and Frazerian death-rebirth deities. This combination of arguments became the standard form of the mythic Christ theory. In Why I Am Not a Christian (1927), Bertrand Russell stated that even if Jesus existed, which he doubted, the public does not "know anything" about him.[57]

Rudolf Bultmann

Rudolf Bultmann in his 1941 lecture New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message called on interpreters to replace traditional theology with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, an endeavor intending to translate what Bultmann considered "theology in story form" into a format palatable to a literate modern audience.

Pinchas Lapide in the 1970s and 1980s was a strong proponent of recovering historical, Jewish, Jesus from beneath the layers of Christian mythology. Lapide saw the historical Jesus as a rabbi in the Hasidean tradition of Hillel and Hanina Ben Dosa, and in the context of Jewish independence struggle against Roman occupation. In The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), edited by John Hick, a team of seven British theologians argued from a position within the Church that God's incarnation in Christ is mythical.

Jesus as "true myth"

Contemporary to Rudolf Bultmann's interpretation of the New Testament narrative as valid theology in story form, Christian mythologists such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien understood the narrative of Christ's sacrificial death of atonement for humanity as a "true myth" with the special property that it had been enacted historically in time and space. Lewis wrote, "the story of Christ is simply a true myth; a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference, that it really happened, and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's Myth where the others are men's myths"[58] In this view, mythological predecessors of the "drama" of Christ were inspired glimpses of divine truth that would only become fully manifest at an appointed moment and place, viz. in Roman Judea. "The Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as he found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself through what we call "real things."[58] For these authors, the mythological elements in the story of the Christ do not undermine but rather enhance the transcendental truth of the Gospel.

Unlike Bultmann, Lewis and Tolkien did not intend to demythologize the gospel, understanding myth as an intrinsic component of its truth. Instead, they felt a challenge to make use of their "sub-creative" powers to rework these mythemes into mythologies of their own in their works of fiction.

John Warwick Montgomery has examined the distinctives of both Lewis and Tolkien's work as Literary Apologists. He sees Lewis as presenting Allegorical Myths as an apologetic for the comprehensiveness of Christian truth, whereas Tolkien presents Deep Myths as an apologetic for the vastness of God's Kingdom. The "mythopoeic impact" of Tolkien was greater than that of Lewis according to Montgomery's analysis.[59]

In 1977, this line of argument received attention from academic theology, The Myth of God Incarnate, edited by John Hick. In this volume, a team of seven British theologians takes a position from within the Church to the effect that God's incarnation in Christ is mythical. They argue that

New Testament scholarship has shown how fragmentary and ambiguous are the data available to us as we try to look back across nineteen and a half centuries, and at the same time how large and variable is the contribution of the imagination to our "pictures" of Jesus [...] The metaphysical uniqueness of Jesus, as traditionally taught, has always been taken to have carried with it a unique moral perfection [...] It is impossible to justify any such claim on purely historical grounds, however wide the net for evidence is cast. So far as the gospels are concerned, the material in them is too scanty, and too largely selected and organized with reference to other considerations, to provide the necessary evidence.

Michael Green edited a response from evangelical theologians entitled 'The Truth of God Incarnate'.

Jesus as historical nucleus of Christian myth

Regardless of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the titles accorded to him in the New Testament and later literature clearly establish him in the tradition of both Hebrew and Hellenistic culture, as a semi-divine or deified hero or sacred king (Christ or Messiah), and as a saviour (soter). This circumstance is by no means in contradiction to a historical figure as outlined by the gospel, it is rather the predictable interpretation of a story of a "dead and risen Son of God" by the Hellenistic public of the early centuries AD, and during the Constantinian shift (between the Edict of Milan of 313 and the prohibition of pagan cults by Theodosius I in 391) even a conscious amalgamation of the tenets of the early Church Fathers with established cult practice of Roman imperial cult. The identification of Christ with Sol Invictus and the establishment of the Pontifex Maximus as the "steward of Christ" in the Roman church is a result of this process of amalgamation. Similarly, Christian liturgy and liturgical calendar were modelled after Roman examples, e.g. the adoption of the festival of Sol Invictus to commemorate the Epiphany of Christ.

These aspects were taken up in Germanic Christianity and combined with Germanic myth, giving rise to heroic poetry surrounding Christ and his sacrificial death, such as The Dream of the Rood.

Demonic imitation

Justin Martyr

The basic theme of demonic imitation is that the devil also imitated the prophecies in the Old Testament so that he had a collection of stories similar to the ones told about Jesus. The purpose of this would be to mislead those seeking salvation either to follow false gods or to deny that in Jesus's case these events really occurred.[60][61]

Jesus as unhistorical myth

Opinions of a purely or primarily mythical Christ originate in the late 18th century with Charles François Dupuis.[62] In works published in the 1790s, both argued that numerous ancient myths, including the life of Jesus, were based on the movement of the sun through the zodiac.[63][64][65]

The first academic advocate was the 19th century historian and theologian Bruno Bauer. Proponents such as Arthur Drews were influential in biblical studies during the early 20th century.

The hypothesis is mostly considered obsolete in current scholarship,[66][67] although a number of authors such as George Albert Wells, Earl Doherty and Robert M. Price have discussed similar ideas in popular literature in the 1970s to 2000s.

See also


  1. ^ "Myth" in Dictionary of Jesus and Gospels ed. Joel B. Green, et al.
  2. ^ Justin Martyrs first Apology
  3. ^ Sandmel cautions that:
    "We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying a literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction. Sandmel, S (1962). "Parallelomania". Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1): 1–13. doi:10.2307/3264821. JSTOR 3264821. 
  4. ^ The mid-19th century debates are traced in G.S. Williamson, The Longing for Myth in Germany, 2004.
  5. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 26. 1 - 2
  6. ^ Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 2. 34a
  7. ^ a b Wick, Peter (2004). "Jesus gegen Dionysos? Ein Beitrag zur Kontextualisierung des Johannesevangeliums". Biblica (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute) 85 (2): 179–198. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  8. ^ Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, 1985 pp. 64, 132
  9. ^ a b c Powell, Barry B., Classical Myth Second ed. With new translations of ancient texts by Herbert M. Howe. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1998.
  10. ^ Studies in Early Christology, by Martin Hengel, 2005, p.331 (ISBN 978-0-567-04280-4)
  11. ^ E. Kessler, Dionysian Monotheism in Nea Paphos, Cyprus: "two monotheistic religions, Dionysian and Christian, existed contemporaneously in Nea Paphos during the 4th century C.E. [...] the particular iconography of Hermes and Dionysos in the panel of the Epiphany of Dionysos [...] represents the culmination of a pagan iconographic tradition in which an infant divinity is seated on the lap of another divine figure; this pagan motif was appropriated by early Christian artists and developed into the standardized icon of the Virgin and Child. Thus the mosaic helps to substantiate the existence of pagan monotheism." (Abstract)
  12. ^ "The Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology", Edited by Donald B. Redford, article by Edmund S. Melzer, p. 167, Org Pub Oxford University Press, Berkley Books edition, 2003, ISBN 978-0-425-19096-8
  13. ^ Massey, Gerald (1907). Ancient Egypt, the light of the world. London: T. Fisher Unwin. pp. 728–914. ISBN 978-1-4588-1251-3. 
  14. ^ D. M. Murdock (2009). Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection. Stellar House Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9799631-1-7. 
  15. ^ Tom Harpur (2005). The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light. Walker & Company. ISBN 978-0-8027-1449-7.,&cd=1. 
  16. ^ Charles, Larry; Maher, Bill (2009). Religulous. Lion's Gate Entertainment 
  17. ^ a b Gasque, W. Ward (2004-08-09). "The Leading Religion Writer in Canada ... Does He Know What He's Talking About?". History News Network (George Mason University). Retrieved 2010-01-20. 
  18. ^ "Mary A central figure", Six Academic Experts, BBC Religion & Ethics, 2 October 2002, fetched 5 September 2009.BBC - Religions - Christianity: Mary
  19. ^ E. A. Wallis Budge, "Egyptian Religion",Ch2,ISBN 978-0-14-019017-5
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  61. ^ See Justin Martyr#Apology for more information on this book
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  • Thompson, Thomas L. (2005). The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-08577-4. 
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