There is often a great deal of internet chatter about books or articles that suggest Jesus is the amalgamation of pagan myths. Perhaps one of the most popular of these internet iterations is that the Jesus story is really stolen from the ancient Egyptian myth of Horus. Of course, the “Jesus as Horus myth” is based on the presupposition that Jesus never existed as a historical figure. Unfortunately, for the supporters of this view, scholarship is not on their side, and so any theory of Jesus as myth is a house of cards. Many secular or non-Christian historians give evidence for the historical Jesus. (Josephus and Pliny the Elder, but also modern church historians like John P. Meier – see his book,
). Perhaps, most obviously, if Jesus was simply a reiteration of the Horus myth, how does one explain the rapid rise and spread of Christianity, even in the face of intense persecution? And, incidentally, how many Horus worshipers exist today?
Christians, (in addition to the gospel writers and the letters of Paul) as early as
were defending the claims of Jesus and of the movement that had sprung up after his death. To understand the significance of this, think of how much historical information we have today about the Civil War, for example, or even further back, on the Revolutionary War, now almost three hundred years later. There is a wealth of accurate, historical information on these events produced by individuals living hundreds of years later based on verbal accounts recorded in letters and writings from that time period, just as the early Christians used the stories from eyewitnesses about Jesus to write the gospels, and the earliest letters and writings in the New Testament. As a result of this research, we have a fairly strong confidence that the Civil War and the Revolutionary War actually happened. Why is it then, that when we have clear evidence of Jesus’ existence by ancient, non-Christian sources and by Christian sources dated within or very soon after the first century (including the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas that scholars date anywhere from as early as 60 A.D. to around 140-170 A.D.) do we continue to have individuals question whether or not Jesus existed? The evidence of scholarship has long disputed those who continue to make this claim. To suggest that Jesus never existed is the much easier route than answering the more difficult question of “Who Was Jesus?”
Some have found an article that deals with the alleged parallels between
, to be very helpful. This article also lists additional sources for more study. But, what about this larger question of ancient myths as they relate to Jesus? We do not have reason to believe that deaths and resurrections in ancient legends were later addendums to minimize the importance of Christ’s death and resurrection. The fact that this is a common feature of pagan mythology does not necessarily suggest that Jesus is merely a myth. On the contrary, many great thinkers like
view these sorts of motifs in other religions as echoes of the true God-man to come. This does not mean that they are wholly true. Yet, out of the milieu of these myths we have the true, historical account of Jesus of Nazareth. He, in a sense, fulfilled the foreshadowing of all these myths by revealing the only true God through his life, death and his resurrection.
Ancient myths and legends that bear some resemblance to biblical history add to the credibility of the biblical witness, and do not diminish it. For example, many cultures have some sort of flood narrative. Does this mean that the story of Noah's flood, as recorded in the book of Genesis, is just another myth? No, it does not. Rather, ancient cultures all had within their "cultural memory" a recollection of a massive flood. Details of this flood were passed down through oral history, and later written down for posterity. Oral tradition was the primary means by which stories were transmitted in the ancient world, a practice continued by the Jews well into the first century, when Jesus would have lived. Oral tradition, based on memory, was a highly reliable (since memorization was the main means of learning and transmitting information in the ancient world) means of preserving historic events. The abundance of flood narratives found in various cultures is an illustration of the credibility and reliability of the flood story.
The critical distinction to keep in mind is this: one must be careful from concluding that
parallels infer influence with regards to similarities in various myths or religious systems
notes in his book
Lost in Transmission
, “When reading the New Testament, we find images like light, darkness, life, death, rebirth; we also find concepts like vicarious redemption and personal identification with the divine. But it would be foolish to suppose that these images and ideas are uniquely Christian, for anyone who has done even a little reading in the primary sources of world religions will see that there is nothing peculiarly Christian at all about such terms and images, even if there was a distinctive Christian use of them. And so we realize soon enough that when Christian images are anticipated in non-Christian religious literature or art, it does not follow that the former is dependent on the latter. If Christianity is true then we would expect Christianity to resonate with the deepest longings of humanity, using some of the very same imagery that humanity has latched on to in order to express those longings. Likewise, if the God of Christianity was interested in conveying himself in meaningful terms, it should come as little surprise that these terms include archetypal patterns and universal images.” (p. 24-25).
Clearly, Jesus and Horus are not twins separated at birth, or two re-tellings of the same story. While some myths might contain parallels with the Bible, and with the historical Jesus, this does not infer influence or dependence. Rather, the God who created the world speaks the language of our deepest needs and desires - these needs and desires are found in every culture and language, but find their ultimate fulfillment in the historical person of Jesus.
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