Good question...

...was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth? 

This is one of those questions that amaze me that it is STILL I decided to write it all up. Often I get an email that reads like this:

"The reason for this letter is that I am wondering if you could answer a question I have. In one of your html pages the subject of Mithras is touched upon lightly and a link is given for further information. The link goes nowhere though, and I am really interested in finding out more about Mithras and other Dying-God mythologies. The reason is because I often enter correspondences and dialogues with atheists. Recently one such atheist raised his question, and I am still waiting to respond to him, because of my unfamiliarity with the subject. His letter went like this:

'How can a historic personage (such as Jesus) have a recorded life (according to the New Testament in the Bible) almost identical to various other mythos out there including but not limited to:
  1. Mithras (Roman Mithraism)
  2. Horus (Egyptian God of Light)
Both of these religions came *before* Christianity and are clearly labeled as myths yet the 'stories' of their lives are, in many ways, identical to the 'life' of Jesus the Christ.
Now, before you say that I am jumping logic or that you have never ever heard of what I am talking about . . my question is this:
*IF* the information that I have just stated above is TRUE
*THEN* would it not bear strong evidence to the face that Jesus the Christ was and is not a historic personage?
Just answer that directly.'

I would appreciate any help or information you could offer on the subject. Thank you"

Notice the general allegation--

There are material, significant, and pervasive similarities between Jesus Christ and other Dying God-figures (and/or Savior-figures), and that these similarities are best explained by the hypothesis that the figure of Jesus is materially derived from (or heavily influenced by) these other Dying God/Savior-figures.
Sometimes the allegation is worded strongly--Jesus was NOT a real person, but a legend; sometimes it is worded less strongly--Jesus was real, but was fused with these derivative mythic elements such that THEY became the core teachings about Jesus.

Now, to analyze this carefully--and with some rigor, since there are MANY 'fuzzy' notions in this--requires us to evaluate several assertions--ALL OF WHICH must be true for the allegation to stand. They are:

Notice that it is not simply enough to point to some vague similarities and yell "copy cat!"--one must come up with some argument/evidence for EACH of the above more detailed assertions---which are simply part of the allegation of 'copy cat'...

So, let's examine each of these in turn...remembering that if ANY seem significantly implausible, the whole structure falls.

Most of the observed 'similarities' are explained by the above considerations, but let's go ahead and probe a litte farther.

These alleged "identicalities" generally attempt to identify Jesus with deities within a couple of categories (which have some overlap).

  1. First there are the "Dying and Rising Gods" (e.g. Adonis, Baal (and Hadad), Marduk, Osiris, Tammuz/Dumuzi, Melquart, Eshmun), popularized in James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough [WR:GB]
  2. Secondly are the figures in the Mystery Religions (e.g. Mithra, Dionysos, Hellenistic period Isis/Osirus).
  3. Third, there are the more "major players" (e.g. Buddha, Krishna)
  4. Finally are the figures that are allegedly linked by broader motifs such as 'miracle worker', 'savior' or 'virgin born'--heroes and divine men-- without an explicit death/resurrection notion (e.g. Indra, Thor, Horus?)

Let's look at these in turn...
  1. the Dying and Rising Gods

  2. It is in this category that we will begin to see a major weakness in the CopyCat hypotheis--that of being radically out-of-date with scholarship.

    If one looks at the 'skeptical' literature on the subject, the citations and sources used are generally a century old (!) or more recent 'popular literature' (based on those out-of-date resources) that is NEVER cited in the scholarly works of the past twenty years.

    Just for example, the abysmal piece on "Origins of Christianity" cited by some who come through the ThinkTank--besides being riddled with gross errors of fact and method--does not cite a SINGLE scholarly work dealing with primary materials, and its main supports are from works hopelessly out of date (e.g. Joseph Wheless, Kersey Graves, Albert Churchward, Gerald Massey, Robert Taylor). The few recent works cited in the piece either (1) do not even TRY to defend/document their assertions(!)--e.g. Lloyd Graham's Myths and Deceptions of the Bible; or (2) mix such non-documented assertions with statements supported only by secondary materials--e.g. Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. [I have been told by a prominent skeptic on the web that these works are considered 'embarrassments' to their cause.]

    But why does the CopyCat believer not produce more recent works that the above? (Even the field of biblical studies sometimes refers to this motif--even though it is slightly out of the subject matter field.) It is because history-of-religions scholarship has abandoned the position!

    I want to give an extended quote here from the outstanding reference work edited by the preminent comparative religions scholar Mircea Eliade, The Encyclopedia of Religion [Macmillian: 1987]. The entry under "Dying and Rising Gods" starts this way (emphasis mine):

    "The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.

    "Definition. As applied in the scholarly literature, 'dying and rising gods' is a generic appellation for a group of male deities found in agrarian Mediterranean societies who serve as the focus of myths and rituals that allegedly narrate and annually represent their death and resurrection.

    " Beyond this sufficient criterion, dying and rising deities were often held by scholars to have a number of cultic associations, sometimes thought to form a "pattern." They were young male figures of fertility; the drama of their lives was often associated with mother or virgin goddesses; in some areas, they were related to the institution of sacred kingship, often expressed through rituals of sacred marriage; there were dramatic reenactments of their life, death, and putative resurrection, often accompanied by a ritual identification of either the society or given individuals with their fate.

    "The category of dying and rising gods, as well as the pattern of its mythic and ritual associations, received its earliest full formulation in the influential work of James G. Frazer The Golden Bough, especially in its two central volumes, The Dying God and Adonis, Arris, Osiris. Frazer offered two interpretations, one euhemerist, the other naturist. In the former, which focused on the figure of the dying god, it was held that a (sacred) king would be slain when his fertility waned. This practice, it was suggested, would be later mythologized, giving rise to a dying god. The naturist explanation, which covered the full cycle of dying and rising, held the deities to be personifications of the seasonal cycle of vegetation. The two interpretations were linked by the notion that death followed upon a loss of fertility, with a period of sterility being followed by one of rejuvenation, either in the transfer of the kingship to a successor or by the rebirth or resurrection of the deity.

    "There are empirical problems with the euhemerist theory. The evidence for sacral regicide is limited and ambiguous; where it appears to occur, there are no instances of a dying god figure. The naturist explanation is flawed at the level of theory. Modern scholarship has largely rejected, for good reasons, an interpretation of deities as projections of natural phenomena.

    "Nevertheless, the figure of the dying and rising deity has continued to be employed, largely as a preoccupation of biblical scholarship, among those working on ancient Near Eastern sacred kingship in relation to the Hebrew Bible and among those concerned with the Hellenistic mystery cults in relation to the New Testament.

    "Broader Categories. Despite the shock this fact may deal to modern Western religious sensibilities, it is a commonplace within the history of religions that immortality is not a prime characteristic of divinity: gods die. Nor is the concomitant of omnipresence a widespread requisite: gods disappear. The putative category of dying and rising deities thus takes its place within the larger category of dying gods and the even larger category of disappearing deities. Some of these divine figures simply disappear; some disappear only to return again in the near or distant future; some disappear and reappear with monotonous frequency. All the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of dying and rising deities can be subsumed under the two larger classes of disappearing deities or dying deities. In the first case, the deities return but have not died; in the second case, the gods die but do not return. There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity."

    Now, we can summarize this quote thus:
    1. There is simply NO data to support the belief in the existence of ANY dyin'-n-risin' deity apart from Jesus Christ;
    2. There is therefore data CONTRARY to the belief that this was a COMMON figure before the time of Christ (to say the least!);
    3. And therefore, there would not be ANY motif/images FROM WHICH the NT authors could even borrow the image of a dying and rising God!!!!
    4. (And also that any biblical and ANE scholarship that still uses this image in trying to understand ANE sacral kingship and NT Mystery Religions is simply unaware of the fact that the comparative data has moved out from under them!)
    Now, from a practical standpoint, we SHOULD BE able to end the matter here. Since most of the alleged pre-Christian "Christs" are held up as dying-and-rising deities, this SINGLE criticism of modern scholarship ALONE would destroy the 'material borrowing' or CopyCat hypothesis totally.

    But let's go a bit further...let's look at some of the specific deities offered as pagan christs, and see how scholarship views these 'almost identical' claims (pages cited are from the Eliade work, cited above, "Dying and Rising Gods", by J. Smith):

    Smith simply summaries the bankruptcy of the Dying and Rising Gods position (p.526):
    "As the above examples make plain, the category of dying and rising deities is exceedingly dubious. It has been based largely on Christian interest and tenuous evidence. As such, the category is of more interest to the history of scholarship than to the history of religions."
    In other words, the Jesus stories were NOT based on some alleged earlier (and common) Dying and Rising God theme--for it simply has never existed!

  3. Secondly are the figures in the Mystery Religions (e.g. Mithra, Dionysos, Hellenistic period Isis/Osirus).

  4. (First, let me point out that, according to Smith (above), IF WE FIND Dying and Rising God elements in these religions, then they will be POST-CHRISTIAN in dating and cannot, therefore, be responsible for the production of the New Testament.)

    The Mystery Religions flourished during the Hellenistic Age (ca. 300bc - 200 ad+), and were small, local cults up until 100 a.d. [For a wider analysis of these cults and their possible impact on Christianity, see Nash, cited below as simply "Nash"]. "These mysteries, involving the worship of deities from Greece, Syria, Anatolia, Egypt, or Persia, were diverse in geographical origin and heterogeneous in historical development and theological orientation." [TAM:4], and were generally confined to specific localities until around 100 a.d. [Nash]. They were essentially closed, small groups, in which initiation into 'the secrets of the god' had to be earned through deeds and rituals.

    We have almost no contemporary data about the Hellenistic mystery cults [NTB:120], and we are almost totally dependent on 3rd century a.d. sources [NASH]. Nash cautions about this:

    "It is not until we come to the third century A.D. that we find sufficient source material to permit a relatively complete reconstruction of their content. Far too many writers use this later source material (after A.D. 200) to form reconstructions of the third-century mystery experience and then uncritically reason back to what they think must have been the earlier nature of the cults. This practice is exceptionally bad scholarship and should not be allowed to stand without challenge. Information about a cult that formed several hundred years after the close of the New Testament canon must not be read back into what is presumed to be the status of the cult during the first century A.D. The crucial question is not what possible influence the mysteries may have had on segments of Christendom after A.D. 400, but what effect the emerging mysteries may have had on the New Testament in the first century."
    We immediately run into a problem here--that of "who borrowed from whom?". If the NT was completed before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d., and the Mystery Religions (MR's) in the Roman Empire only started 'flourishing' after 100 A.D. (and were almost certainly not present in Jerusalem before its Fall!), then any alleged dependence of the gospels on the MR's is a bit tenuous. This problem is most acute in the case of Mithras, but also applies to a lesser extent to the Hellenistic version of Isis/Osiris and Dionysos. So, the scholar Meyer, in his sourcebook about the subject [TAM:226]:
    "Scholars have proposed several theories to account for the obvious similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions. Theories of dependence frequently have been proposed. Early Christian authors noted the similarities between Christianity and Mithraism and charged that the mysteries were godless, demonically inspired imitations of true Christianity....Some modern scholars, conversely, have suggested that early Christianity (even before the fourth century C.E., when Christianity began to adopt the practices of its non-Christian neighbors with vigor) borrowed substantially from the mystery religions all around...

    "Today, however, most scholars are considerably more cautious about the parallels between early Christianity and the mysteries and hesitate before jumping to conclusions about dependence."

    (Would that the CopyCat-advocates would learn a lesson from the scholars!!)

    To Meyer's quote we might add additional modern scholars who are convinced that (1) most of the 'obvious similarities' are inconsequential or incidental; and (2) that the MR's borrowed from early Christianity. Nash cites Bruce Metzger:

    "What few parallels may still remain may reflect a Christian influence on the pagan systems. As Bruce Metzger has argued, 'It must not be critically assumed that the Mysteries always influenced Christianity, for it is not only possible but probable that in certain cases, the influence moved in the opposite direction.' It should not be surprising that leaders of cults that were being successfully challenged by Christianity should do something to counter the challenge. What better way to do this than by offering a pagan substitute? Pagan attempts to counter the growing influence of Christianity by imitating it are clearly apparent in measure instituted by Julian the Apostate, who was the Roman emperor form A.D. 361 to 363."
    Since there is still a great deal of confusion about the Dying and Rising God (DARG) motif, on the part of biblical scholars (as noted above by Smith, from the history-of-religions field), let me cite some of the major differences between the death of Jesus and the various deities subsumed so far in the previous two sections (as summarized by Nash):
    "The best way to evaluate the alleged dependence of early Christian beliefs about Christ's death and resurrection on the pagan myths of a dying and rising savior-god is to examine carefully the supposed parallels. The death of Jesus differs from the deaths of the pagan gods in at least six ways:
    1. None of the so-called savior-gods died for someone else. The notion of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity.
    2. Only Jesus died for sin. As Gunter Wagner observes, to none of the pagan gods "has the intention of helping men been attributed. The sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting accident, self-emasculation, etc.)."
    3. Jesus died once and for all (Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28; 10:10-14). In contrast, the mystery gods were vegetation deities whose repeated deaths and resuscitations depict the annual cycle of nature.
    4. Jesus' death was an actual event in history. The death of the mystery god appears in a mythical drama with no historical ties; its continued rehearsal celebrates the recurring death and rebirth of nature. The incontestable fact that the early church believed that its proclamation of Jesus' death and resurrection was grounded in an actual historical event makes absurd any attempt to derive this belief from the mythical, nonhistorical stories of the pagan cults.
    5. Unlike the mystery gods, Jesus died voluntarily. Nothing like this appears even implicitly in the mysteries.
    6. And finally, Jesus' death was not a defeat but a triumph. Christianity stands entirely apart from the pagan mysteries in that its report of Jesus' death is a message of triumph. Even as Jesus was experiencing the pain and humiliation of the cross, He was the victor. The New Testament's mood of exultation contrasts sharply with that of the mystery religions, whose followers wept and mourned for the terrible fate that overtook their gods."

    These are some very material and significant differences between even a most generous reading of the MR and DARG texts! This SHOULD be enough data to indicate that "dependence" (as opposed to "similarities") are going to be very difficult to maintain--in the opinions of scholars. But let's also take a brief look at the major figures that are prominent in the better known MR's of the Roman Empire. The ones most often referenced in NT background reference sourcebooks such as KOC, DSG, and NTB are the Greek MRs (Eleusinian--based on the rape of Persephone by Pluto; Dionysos (Bacchus)) and the Oriental MRs (Isis, Cybele/Attis--examined above, Mithras) [For a discussion of this breakdown, see NTSE:132-137.] We will look at some of these below. So, once again, the 'almost identical' issue is either (1) methodologically flawed; (2) hopelessly ambiguous; or (3) chronologically anachronistic. We just don't have the data to suggest either enough similarity or dependence.

  5. Third, there are the more "major players" (e.g. Buddha, Krishna)

  6. To what extent are the lives of Jesus, Buddha, Krisha "almost identical" enough to justify suspicion of borrowing?

    Let's do Buddha first...

    Let's use the list from Origins:

    1. Buddha was born of the virgin Maya.
    2. He performed miracles and wonders.
    3. He crushed a serpent's head.
    4. He abolished idolatry.
    5. He ascended to Nirvana or "heaven."
    6. He was considered the "Good Shepherd."

    Now, there are two main questions hiding in here: (1) did the Buddha legend include these legends in the way portrayed--"elements in common with Jesus Christ"; and (2) are these sufficient to conclude "almost identical" or even "material similarity"?

    The second is relatively easy to answer, given the above discussions. These elements--even IF accurate--would not even be close enough to implicate borrowing. Let's go back through them.

    1. Buddha was born of the virgin Maya. [We have already seen the radical differences here, and the data that his mom was married before his conception counts against the factuality of this. There ARE later traditions, however, that assert that she had taken vows of abstinence even during her marriage (a bit odd?), but it can be understood (so in EOR) to refer only to the time of that midsummer festival. The first and finest biography of the Buddha, written by Ashvaghosha in the 1st century, called the Buddhacarita ("acts of the buddha") gives a rather strong indication of her non-virgin status in canto 1: "He [the king of the Shakyas] had a wife, splendid, beautiful, and steadfast, who was called the Great Maya, from her resemblance to Maya the Goddess. These two tasted of love's delights, and one day she conceived the fruit of her womb, but without any defilement, in the same way in which knowledge joined to trance bears fruit. Just before her conception she had a dream." (WR:BS:35).]
    2. He performed miracles and wonders. [We have already seen how this is expected, not surprising.]
    3. He crushed a serpent's head. [Strangely enough, even though this is commonly associated with the Messianic figure in the OT from Genesis 3, there is no point of contact with the NT portrayal of Jesus! The history-of-religions field, however, argues that this pervasive theme could be related to some primeval religious revelation/insight.]
    4. He abolished idolatry. [Not only is this HIGHLY questionable, given the various deities/tantric deities/manifestations in many of the forms of Buddism(!), but it can also be pointed out that Jesus never did this! Idolatry as a heresy was legally abolished in the Law of Moses, but was practically eradicated in the Exile. Some of buddhism is atheistic; some of it has thousands of spirits/deities. Indeed, the 1st-century buddhist biographer cited above from WR:BS, in canto 21 ("Parinirvana"), in describing the events that happened at the death of the Buddha, says this: "But, well established in the practice of the supreme Dharma, the gathering of the gods round king Vaishravana was not grieved and shed no tears, so great was their attachment to the Dharma. The Gods of the Pure Abode, though they had great reverence for the Great Seer, remained composed, and their minds were unaffected; for they hold the things of this world in the utmost contempt."]
    5. He ascended to Nirvana or "heaven." [This is a gross distortion of the Buddhist teaching on Nirvana! It is not a 'place' nor is 'ascension' (especially BODILY, VISIBLE, and HISTORICAL ascension as in the life of Christ!!!!) a relevant concept. This is another example of imprecise and misleading language. The Buddha is said to have traversed (on his death-couch) all nine of the trance levels--twice, and then his body was cremated (WR:BS:64-65; WR:BIG:42)]
    6. He was considered the "Good Shepherd." [Again, this is expected and common, especially in pastoral-based cultures; not a cause to suspect borrowing!]

    These 'similarities' turn out to be either superficial, misinformed, misunderstood, or simply irrelevant. As in most of the cases we will look at in this paper, it is the differences that are the most striking!

    Just to cite a few:

Now, Horus...

Again, the list from Origins:

  1. Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th.
  2. He had 12 disciples.
  3. He was buried in a tomb and resurrected.
  4. He was also the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Messiah, God's Anointed Son, the Good Shepherd, etc.
  5. He performed miracles and rose one man, El-Azar-us, from the dead.
  6. Horus' personal epithet was "Iusa," the "ever becoming son" of "Ptah," the "Father."
  7. Horus was called "the KRST," or "Anointed One," long before the Christians duplicated the story
Let's look at these:
  1. Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th. [We have already seen that Horus was NOT born of a virgin at all. Indeed, one ancient Egyptian relief depicts this conception by showing his mother Isis in a falcon form, hovering over an erect phallus of a dead and prone Osiris in the Underworld! (EOR, s.v. "Phallus"). And the Dec 25 issue is of no relevance to us--nowhere does the NT associate this date with Jesus' birth at all.

  2. But, just to check the reliability of the assertion about December 25th...As it turns out, this CopyCat assertion is also incorrect. E.A. Wallis Budge was one of the leading Egyptologists of this century, and his work is still cited in the scholarly literature. His two-volume work entitled The Gods of Egypt (Dover 1969 repub of the earlier 1904 work)--cited below as GOE--provides much detail about the legends of Horus. In this case, Budge has a section on the calendar and lists Horus' birthday (the ORIGINAL 'big' Horus) as the 2nd epagomenal/intercalary day of the year (GOE:2.109, 293). The Egyptian official calendar was of 360 days, followed by 5 intercalary (i.e.inserted into the calendar) days (to fill out the year to 365), which began with the helical rising of the star Sirius (Religious Holidays and Calendars: An Encyclopedic Handbook by Kelly, Dresser, Ross; Ominigraphics:1993, p.44), also known as the first day of the month Thoth. This places the start of the year around July 19-21 [Chronology of the Ancient World, by E.J. Bickerman, Cornell:1980, 2nd ed.], and would place the 5 extra days immediately preceding that date (i.e., at the END of the previous year). These extra days, therefore, would fall in the month of July--NOT December! ]

  3. He had 12 disciples. [This would be so incidental as to be of no consequence--even if I could verify this fact!

  4. But again, my research in the academic literature does not surface this fact. I can find references to FOUR "disciples"--variously called the semi-divine HERU-SHEMSU ("Followers of Horus") [GOE:1.491]. I can find references to SIXTEEN human followers (GOE:1.196). And I can find reference to an UNNUMBERED group of followers called mesniu/mesnitu ("blacksmiths") who accompanied Horus in some of his battles [GOE:1.475f; although these might be identified with the HERU-SHEMSU in GOE:1.84]. But I cannot find TWELVE anywhere... ]

  5. He was buried in a tomb and resurrected. [We have already seen that the DARG pattern simply cannot be demonstrated in ANY case. And the data is against this "fact" even being true! I can find no references to Horus EVER dying, until he later becomes "merged" with Re the Sun god, after which he dies and is 'reborn' every single day as the sun rises!!!. This is not even close to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!]
  6. He was also the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Messiah, God's Anointed Son, the Good Shepherd, etc. [We saw above that the commonality of religious terms means almost nothing.]
  7. He performed miracles and rose one man, El-Azar-us, from the dead. [Miracle stories abound, even among religious groups that could not possibly have influenced one another, such as Latin American groups (e.g. Aztecs) and Roman MR's, so this 'similarity' carries no force. The reference to this resurrection I cannot find ANYWHERE in the scholarly literature. I have looked under all forms of the name to no avail. The fact that something so striking is not even mentioned in modern works of Egyptology indicates its questionable status. It simply cannot be adduced as data without SOME real substantiation. The closest thing to it I can find is in Horus' official funerary role, in which he "introduces" the newly dead to Osirus and his underworld kingdom. In the Book of the Dead, for example, Horus introduces the newly departed Ani to Osirus, and asks Osirus to accept and care for Ani (GOE:1.490). ]
  8. Horus' personal epithet was "Iusa," the "ever becoming son" of "Ptah," the "Father." [Again, a case of religious epithets without any force for this argument.

  9. This fact has likewise escaped me and my research. I have looked at probably 50 epithets of the various Horus deities, and most major indices of the standard Egyptology reference works and come up virtually empty-handed. I can find a city named "Iusaas" [GOE:1.85], a pre-Islamic Arab deity by the name of "Iusaas", thought by some to be the same as the Egyptian god Tehuti/Thoth [GOE:2.289], and a female counterpart to Tem, named "Iusaaset" [GOE:1.354]. But no reference to Horus as being "Iusa"... ]

  10. Horus was called "the KRST," or "Anointed One," long before the Christians duplicated the story [This is still yet another religious name or symbol, without import for our topic. Anointing of religious figures was a common motif in ANE and AME religion anyway. I cannot find this anywhere either!]

Most of the above 'similarities' simply vanish, become irrelevant, or contribute nothing to the argument for some alleged 'identical lives' assertion for Horus and Jesus. To further highlight this, let's look at the thumbnail sketch of Horus' life given in Encyclopedia of Religions, s.v. "Horus":
"In ancient Egypt there were originally several gods known by the name Horus, but the best known and most important from the beginning of the historic period was the son of Osiris and Isis who was identified with the king of Egypt. According to myth, Osiris, who assumed the rulership of the earth shortly after its creation, was slain by his jealous brother, Seth. The sister- wife of Osiris, Isis, who collected the pieces of her dismembered husband and revived him, also conceived his son and avenger, Horus. Horus fought with Seth, and, despite the loss of one eye in the contest, was successful in avenging the death of his father and in becoming his legitimate successor. Osiris then became king of the dead and Horus king of the living, this transfer being renewed at every change of earthly rule. The myth of divine kingship probably elevated the position of the god as much as it did that of the king. In the fourth dynasty, the king, the living god, may have been one of the greatest gods as well, but by the fifth dynasty the supremacy of the cult of Re, the sun god, was accepted even by the kings. The Horus-king was now also "son of Re." This was made possible mythologically by personifying the entire older genealogy of Horus (the Heliopolitan ennead) as the goddess Hathor, "house of Horus," who was also the spouse of Re and mother of Horus.

"Horus was usually represented as a falcon, and one view of him was as a great sky god whose outstretched wings filled the heavens; his sound eye was the sun and his injured eye the moon. Another portrayal of him particularly popular in the Late Period, was as a human child suckling at the breast of his mother, Isis. The two principal cult centers for the worship of Horus were at Bekhdet in the north, where very little survives, and at Idfu in the south, which has a very large and well- preserved temple dating from the Ptolemaic period. The earlier myths involving Horus, as well as the ritual per- formed there, are recorded at Idfu."

Notice how "almost identical lives" Horus and Jesus had!!! (NOT!): And finally, Krishna....

(Again, the list from Origins):

  1. Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki ("Divine One")
  2. He is called the Shepherd God.
  3. He is the second person of the Trinity.
  4. He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants.
  5. He worked miracles and wonders.
  6. In some traditions he died on a tree.
  7. He ascended to heaven.
Looking a little more closely,
  1. Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki ("Divine One") [We have already seen how these 'virgin birth' parallels are not close enough to constitute a 'compelling similarity', but this one is particularly inappropriate. The facts are simply otherwise--cf. Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology, p. 342:
  2. In India a like tale is told of the beloved savior Krishna, whose terrible uncle, Kansa, was, in that case, the tyrant-king. The savior's mother, Devaki, was of royal lineage, the tyrant's niece, and at the time when she was married the wicked monarch heard a voice, mysteriously, which let him know that her eighth child would be his slayer. He therefore confined both her and her husband, the saintly nobleman Vasudeva, in a closely guarded prison, where he murdered their first six infants as they came. (emphasis mine).
    According to the story, the mother had six normal children before the 7th and 8th 'special' kids--a rather clear indication that the mom was not a virgin when she conceived Krishna. The CopyCat statement above is simply wrong.

    But there is another problem with this birth story--it is way too late in history to count. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita in Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists (Dover: 1967, repub. of 1913), pp.217ff, point out that the childhood legends of Krisha did not begin surfacing until AFTER the Gita of 200-300 a.d., with most of the child-lore originating closer to 1000 a.d. and later (in the bhakti developments). In a case like this can we seriously think that 1st century Jews were clever enough to invent a time machine and steal legends from the future? ]

  3. He is called the Shepherd God. [So he was a what?...Simply a common religious title, not a 'compelling similarity']
  4. He is the second person of the Trinity. [This is a grossly naïve understanding of the Hindu pantheon! The Hindu pantheon--to the extent it can be called a panTHEOn at all--differs from the Christian trinity substantially. The biggest problem with the assertion, however, is that it is simply wrong! Although the Hindu pantheon has changed considerably over over time, Krsna has NEVER been the 'second person of a 3-in-1'. In the oldest layers of Hindu tradition--the Rig Veda--the dominant three were Agni, Ushas (goddess), and Indra, although there were a number of other important deities [WS:SW:84]. After the Vedic period (before 1000 bc), and before the Epic period (400 bc - 400 ad) is the period in which a DIFFERENT "trinity" emerged. So WR:RT:105:
  5. "Traces of the original indigenous religion are plain in the later phases of the history of Hinduism. In the course of time, large shifts occur in the world of the gods. Some gods lose significance while others move into the foreground, until at last the 'Hindu trinity' emerges: Brahma, Visnu, and Siva..."
    Krishna was an avatar (manifestation, incarnation, theophany) of Visnu. As such, Krishna only appeared on the scene during the Epic period, and most of the legendary materials about him show up in the Harivamsa, or Genealogy of Visnu (fourth century a.d.) and in the Puranas (written between 300-1200 a.d.). He is one of TEN avatars of Visnu. Much of the material about him is LATER THAN the NT(!)--for example, the beautiful work the Bhagavadgita, in which he is the main speaker, is dated to be a 2nd century a.d. insertion into the older epic the Mahabharata [WR:Eliade:133; WR:SW:91f; WR:RT:105f].

    One can see quite clearly that the CopyCat assertion is wholly mistaken.

    This is another case of someone sloppily using Christian terminology to describe non-Christian phenomena, and then being surprised by the similarity!]

  6. He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants. [Now, this is interesting. The only event in the life of Krsna I can find that is close to this kind of event is the story cited above, involving only 6-7 infants. How this person would turn that into "thousands" is beyond me (and probably beyond responsible writing as well!). And, this motif of a king attempting to kill a supposed 'infant rival' is common to royal settings--not just divine ones. Hence, one can find this plot-line--a common one throughout human history--in the lives of Gilgamesh, Sargon, Cyrus, Perseus, and Romulous and Remus.(BM:227)]
  7. He worked miracles and wonders. [Surprise, surprise--another religious leader is credited with miracles...Hmm, did Krishna 'borrow' from Buddha or from Thor? From Horus or from...?]
  8. In some traditions he died on a tree. [Not necessarily surprising. The tree has always been a mystical and religious symbol for humanity (see Encyclopedia of Religions, s.v. "Cross"). In India it was used to symbolize the entire created order. So, in the Bhagavadgita 15.1-3, the cosmos is compared to a giant tree. (see also Katha Upanisad 6.1 and Maitri Upanisad 6.4). The tree in India would in no way have the despicable connotations of the Roman cross of execution. Notice, also that for a similarity to exist, the borrowed trait must be common to ALL/MOST traditions of the figure, NOT just 'some'. Local traditions could always be cited with almost infinite variety, decreasing the force of the identification.

  9. From the standpoint of accuracy, let me mention that I cannot find any reference to him dying on a tree. The records I have to his death run something like this (WR:SDFML, s.v. "krishna"):

    "Krishna was accidentally slain by the hunter Jaras...when he was mistaken for a deer and shot in the foot, his vulnerable spot."
    Perhaps he died under a tree, but that would not be very 'similar' to Jesus, now would it?! ]
  10. He ascended to heaven. [Another distortion of Hindu thought. "Heaven" is not a place in Hindu thought, nor does one 'ascend' to it--especially not 'bodily' as did Jesus. The language in later legends (post-800ad) DO sometimes use ascension images, but again, this is WAY too may suggest borrowing, but only in the wrong direction for the CopyCat theorist. ]
These similarities--like most--simply vanish under inspection. And the differences between Jesus Christ and the Krishna of the legends is considerable. The earlier warrior-images of Krisha are those of a worthy and noble hero-type, but the later child/young man legends stand in start contrast to Jesus. Krishnaic legends portray his playfulness and mischief in positive terms, but his consistent thievery (he stole cheese ROUTINELY from the villagers and lied about it to his mom--he was nicknamed the 'butter-thief' in the literature), his erotic adventures with all the cow-maidens of the village, his tricking the people into idolatrous worship of a mountain--just to irritate the god Indra, and the hiding of the clothes of the village women while they were bathing, and then forcing them to walk naked in front him before he would give the clothes back--these all draw a line between him and the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. [These stories can be found in the Myths of the Hindus and Buddhist reference above, as well as in many summaries of his legend.] The adult images of Krishna were considerably more 'worthy' and he came to be worshipped as a supreme deity. But his overall life (above) and his death as a hunting accident are so completely dissimilar to the life and voluntary crucifixion of the Son of God on earth. The similarities are paltry; the differences are staggering.

  • Finally are the figures that are allegedly linked by broader motifs such as 'miracle worker', 'savior' or 'virgin born'--along the line of the "divine man" or hero image in later times, without an explicit death/resurrection notion (e.g. Indra, Thor, Horus?)

  • These generally do not carry the force of the above categories, and so the borrowing/dependence claim is much weaker here. These 'overlaps' are simply explained:

    Thus, it is difficult to make a case for "material, significant, and pervasive" borrowing between Jesus and the plenitude of other religious deities of the world.

    The Net of the allegation of material, significant, and pervasive borrowing: You simply cannot find MORE 'tight' similarities THAN you can find 'tight' dissimilarities between Jesus and the other alleged gods of the world. The DARG's are a fiction, the MR's are too late or not influential enough, the "major figures" are too dissimilar, and the "minor players" are not even close. What similarities DO SEEM to appear are weak, incidental, expected from the nature of humanity, due to equivocation, constitute only a very small fraction of the data of His life/character, or altogether forced. There is an absolute uniqueness about this Jesus of Nazareth that is not duplicated ANYWHERE--in whole or in part.

  • That these similarities are of such a nature to either require borrowing, or be best explained by borrowing;

  • This point is rather moot--we do not have anything to explain.

    Let me make this point with two examples.

    One, if similarities are incidental, they don't require borrowing/dependence at all. I can ALWAYS find elements in common between people (e.g. size, shape, color, IQ, preferences, place of birth). How often in talking with someone do you find out that your birthdays are within a few days of one another? It always SEEMS odd, but there is no reason in the world to suspect 'dependence'!!!

    Closer to the subject would be the symbol of the cross. The cross as a religious symbol (in various shapes, of course) can be traced back to the earliest civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Does this mean that the story of the crucifixion of Jesus on the Roman instrument of execution was 'borrowed' from that symbol?! Crucifixion by the Roman empire was common--and certainly NOT motivated by religious concerns or traditions! How preposterous it would seem to the historian to suggest that the writers of the NT constructed the entire Passion narrative involving Pilate and the Cross--because of a religious motif!! The level of detail and political intrigue and aberrations of Jewish legal praxis screams out for the judgment of authenticity. The similarity between the Cross as the symbol of Anu in Sumeria and the execution instrument of the Roman Empire used on Jesus in NO WAY implies 'borrowing' or 'dependence'.

    Thus, there really is nothing to explain...

    But, for the sake of argument and completeness...let's move on to the issue of...

  • That we can come up with a historically plausible explanation of HOW the borrowing occurred;

  • The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)
  • Created 5/17/97 (Part A) // Part B (6/13/97
  • May God bless Glen Miller and the Christian Think Tank for this masterful refutation of the anti-missionary arguments.
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