Was the Resurrection of Jesus Taken from Earlier Pagan Myths?

As Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus are foundational doctrines upon which our faith is founded, and we will want to share them with others. In fact, Paul writes that if Christ hasn’t been raised, then their preaching and our faith is in vain. So not only are they important doctrines, we are claiming that they are actual, physical, historical events. It might have been easier to push these events into the spiritual realm some how, that way we wouldn’t have to prove them, but orthodox Christians since the beginning have not made this weaker claim. We claim that Christ was crucified in real, space-time history, and that He was also raised from the dead. But what if we’re wrong?

It’s a common claim that the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is actually just another example of the classic “dying and rising god” myth. This is a myth that is supposed to have pre-dated Jesus, and therefore the Apostles and early Christians just adapted the pagan myth into their story of Jesus. Is this true? Well, let’s look at some of the common candidates for this argument, and discuss them one at a time.

Osiris

There are a few problems with this comparison, the first of which being that there are conflicting stories about what supposedly happened. The only thing that can be said conclusively about the story is that he dies in it, and then something happens.

The idea is that another god, Set, murders Osiris for one reason or another. The actual event isn’t described, but it is alluded to. If it was a court case, you could likely establish probable cause. However the death takes place, Osiris dies, and then things get a bit more confusing. In one version, Osiris descends into the underworld, and becomes the ruler of the mummies. Another version has the body of Osiris being cut up into fourteen pieces (or as many as 42) and scattered throughout Egypt. The goddess Isis is able to find most of the pieces and then brings him back to life in the underworld. Finally, there is probably the most confusing version, which has replaced Osiris entirely with Haroeris (an elder form of Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris) who is murdered by Set, and then is avenged by another form of Horus, who was conceived by Haroeris and Isis. Confused yet?

Even being as charitable as possible with the conflicting stories, what we can tell for certain is that it is nothing like the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was crucified, and buried in a very public way, with events and eye witnesses which could be checked, questioned, and verified or falsified. Jesus then rose, physically, and appeared on Earth to various people in various locations and circumstances, and did different things. All of these people could be questioned.

Score: Osiris – 0 ; Jesus – 1

Horus

This one is actually a larger claim than merely dying and rising. The claim is that Christians actually took the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus almost directly from Horus.

Bill Maher: But the Jesus story wasn’t original.
Christian man: How so?
Maher: Written in 1280 B.C., the Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.” Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected.”

That would be a powerful claim, if it were true. The problem is that it’s entirely fabricated. This one suffers in some of the same way that the Osiris story does, but is compounded even more. To start with, there are many “Books of the Dead” which makes it slightly difficult to figure out where the information is supposedly coming from. Also, like Osiris, there are several different versions of the story of the life of Horus, which somewhat accounts for the different versions of Horus that show up in Egyptian mythology.

So, was Horus conceived by a virgin? No. Isis, the mother of Horus, conceived him from his father Osiris. Remember before how I mentioned that there was one piece missing from the body of Osiris after Isis gathered them up? Guess which one it was. Yep, it was his sexual organ. Isis had to magically create a golden one for him, and then they were able to procreate. However you want to categorize that story, Isis was no virgin.

Was Horus baptized by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded? Nope. No such figure exists in Egyptian mythology until the 19th century by Gerald Massey.

What about the miracles? Well, Horus had several battles with Set (the god of the dessert), which isn’t even close to Jesus being led into the dessert to be tempted by Satan. As close as Horus got to miracles was that his spirit supposedly indwelt sick people and they would be cured in the same way that he was cured from poison by the god Thoth (so who’s really doing the healing?). As for “Asar”, that’s actually the Greek transliteration of the name Osiris. Seeing that Horus wasn’t even born until after the “resurrection” of his father, it’s impossible that he would have raised him from the dead.

Did he have 12 disciples? Nope. This is another Gerald Massey original! There were four “sons of Horus”, at best, but they were basically demi-gods, which is quite a bit different than the 12 disciples.

Was Horus crucified? Well, there are several ancient depictions of him holding his arms straight out at his side. Yeah, that’s literally as good as it gets there. Did he die and come back to life? Yes! Well, maybe. When he was battling the god of the dessert, he was poisoned, and Isis went to the animal-headed god of magic, Thoth, to bring him back or to heal him from the poison, depending on which version of the story you read. Is that in any way what happened with Jesus? Not even remotely. The only sure point in which Horus dies is at the end of his life, when he merges with the sun god Re, and then he “dies” and “rises” every time the sun rises and sets. If he didn’t die, it’s hard for there to be any witnesses to herald his resurrection.

Then there’s the part where early Egyptian mythology had Horus, Set, Isis, and Osiris as siblings, but let’s leave the confusing land of Egypt.

Score: Horus – 0; Jesus – 1

Mithras

This one is like Horus in the sense that the claim is made to look like Jesus is merely a retelling of the story of of Mithras. He was supposed to have been born of a virgin, had 12 disciples, died and was buried in a tomb and rose after three days, and offered his disciples a meal consisting of his body and blood.

Was he born of a virgin? Nope. He was actually born from solid rock, which I suppose could be considered a virgin if you really squint, but still doesn’t at all resemble the birth of Jesus.

Did he have 12 disciples? Well, there are depictions of him being surrounded by 12…somethings. Embodiment of the Zodiac, like the sun and the moon. However, these actually post-date Christianity, so they don’t help the argument.

Was he crucified, buried, and resurrected on the third day? Swing and a miss! Mithras never died at all, His followers were discovered to reenact resurrection scenes, but this developed only after Christianity.

Did he have a Passover meal? Well, there is a story about him killing a threatening bull, and another one about how he and the sun god shared a meal of the body and blood of a bull, but that’s as close as it gets.

Mithras – 0; Jesus – 1

Krishna

It’s hard to say whether it’s worse to try and compare merely the death and resurrection aspect of another god to Jesus, or to try and “go big or go home” and claim everything is the same. Krishna is another example of the latter. He is claimed to have been born of a virgin, died via crucifixion, and is the 2nd person of the Hindu trinity.

Once again, the old specter of conflicting versions of the same story arises. Was he born of a virgin? Some stories claim that, while others claim that he was the 8th child of his mother Devaki. Interestingly, he is also supposed to be the 8th reincarnation of the god Vishnu, the same god who is supposed to have somehow or another divinely conceived with Devaki.

Did he die via crucifixion? The details surrounding Krishna’s death are somewhat different, but they do paint a similar picture. He was either a) shot through the head with an arrow while sitting under a tree, which stuck him to the tree, b) shot through the foot with an arrow which stuck him to a tree, c) shot through (somewhere) with a nail which stuck him to a tree, or d) was killed and later strung up in between two trees. In any scenario, this is obviously nothing like the crucifixion of Christ.

Is he the 2nd person of the Hindu trinity? Remember how I mentioned that Krishna is supposed to be the 8th reincarnation of Vishnu? Well, Hinduism gets rather confusing when it comes to reincarnation, which makes it tricky to try and develop a doctrine like the Trinity of Christianity. David Frawley explains it this way:

“The Hindu trinity is of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They are respectively the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. They are also aligned as the transcendent Godhead, Shiva, the cosmic lord, Vishnu and the cosmic mind, Brahma. In this regard they are called Sat-Tat-Aum, the Being, the Thatness or immanence and the Word or holy spirit. This is much like the Christian trinity of God as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The trinity represents the Divine in its threefold nature and function. Each aspect of the trinity contains and includes the others.”

Even equating Krishna with Vishnu, would that really be “much like the Christian trinity”? Sounds more like he needs a talking to from Donnall and Connall. (joke video link here)

So while it may be true that Krishna is the “2nd person of the Hindu trinity”, it cannot be said that that trinity is anything at all like the Christian Trinity.

Krishna – 0; Jesus – 1

All of this is merely showing the negative aspects of how the similarities between Jesus and these gods (and many others) are not as they appear to be, but there is still the other leg of the argument in that there is plenty of evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that simply isn’t shared by any of the other gods that people bring up.

Jesus stands alone in history, and no amount of rhetorical/mental gymnastics can stop people from having to deal with Him, once they take an honest look at the actual information we have available to us. Thankfully, none of the gods that people bring up are able to shake the firm foundation we have in Christ. They can’t even do so much as to take the holly or the jolly from our Christmas, as this humorous video from Lutheran Satire demonstrates

– Jesse