Is Christianity a copycat religion?
What if I told you that there was a historical narrative that told of a god born of a virgin in a cave on the 25th of December?
In this narrative he was a great travelling preacher, had 12 disciples, and promised them immortality.
He eventually sacrificed himself for world peace. Furthermore he was buried in a tomb, rose after three days and instituted something similar to the Lord’s Supper. And finally that he was considered “the redeemer” and “the way, the truth and the life.”
If you thought that I was talking about Jesus, you would be wrong.
Christianity claimed to be a cheap knockoff
In recent years authors like Hugh J. Schonfield and John H. Randall have claimed that Christianity has copied many of its doctrines from pagan belief systems. Core beliefs like the virgin birth of Jesus, his death and resurrection, have been clouded in controversy because these authors claim such concepts pre-date Christ.
Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy who wrote the book The Jesus Mysteries said the following: “Why should we consider the stories of Osiris , Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras and the other pagan mystery saviours as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe them to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem?”
Building the defence
Before we start looking at specific examples that refute these statements it is important to note two things.
1) History proves that Jesus lived and died: With more than 24 000 manuscripts and complete copies of the New Testament books that date between 50 and 300 years after they were originally written, the Bible stands out as the best preserved ancient document of all time. Not only that, but we have 17 contemporary non Christian sources that provide specific information on Christianity and Jesus, and 11 of these speak of the death of Jesus in varying detail. Even if there were striking similarities between the pagan religions and Christianity, it still does not explain away the historical events that we are confronted with when examining the Bible as a record of history.
2) Similarities in themselves do not undermine the authenticity of the biblical text: In The Apologetics Study Bible For Students, edited by Sean McDowell, the author describes the following story: There once was a British Ocean Liner that set sail with an inadequate number of life boats, and on its maiden voyage collided with an iceberg and sank. The ship carried 3000 passengers of whom only 1000 survived.
If I asked you the name of the ship and you answered the Titanic, you would be wrong. The ship would be the Titan, a fictional ship described in Morgan Robertson’s book, Wreck of the Titan (Buccaneer Books, Cutchogue, New York, 1898). The story of the Titan was written 14 years prior to the actual events which happened on the Titanic. So does this mean that the Titanic is fiction because of the striking similarities? Obviously not!
Refuting the critics
In his book The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel tackles the theories that critics of Christianity have developed by interviewing leading Christian scholars on this subject. In short, the various experts refute the notion that Christianity is a copycat religion by looking at the following:
The death of many of the pagan gods are tied to cycles
With many of the resurrection myths associated with the Pagan religions, the death and resurrection of their gods were tied to vegetation or seasonal cycles. It was used as a means to explain why things would die in the autumn and grow again in the spring, or why we had rainy or dry seasons. Baal, the god of thunder and rain for example, would die and be resurrected on an annual basis in line with the rainy season. His followers believed that it stopped raining when he died and started once again when he was raised from the dead.
Attis, another example, was loved by the goddess Cybele. He was however unfaithful to her, and when she found out she drove him mad. In his demented state he then castrated himself and died. She apparently took pity on him and resurrected him. Yearly rituals were kept in order to guarantee good crops.
This is in stark contrast with Jesus, whose death and resurrection was a onetime event and had nothing to do with vegetation or seasonal cycles.
Some gods become zombies
Osiris, one of the other mythical gods is supposedly killed by his brother who cuts him into 14 pieces and scatters him all over the world. The goddess Isis then takes pity on Osiris, collects 13 of the 14 pieces and then buries him. Unfortunately Osiris is not really resurrected but instead “zombified” and becomes the god of the underworld, because he could not be completely put back together again.
No dying and rising Gods that precede Christianity
The Myth of Attis mentioned above pre-dates Christianity, but the resurrection myths only appear on the scene after Jesus’ death.
T.N.D Mettinger – a senior Swedish scholar and professor at Lund University admits in his book The Riddle of the Resurrection that the consensus amongst modern scholars is nearly universal that there are no dying and rising gods that precede Christianity.
Another popular claim is that gods like Zeus impregnated virgins without copulation. Their offspring were then half man half god whose lives began at conception.
The Christian concept of the virgin birth of Jesus is quite different to those of the Greek gods, who had sex with humans to satisfy their lusts. Zeus may have impregnated Danae with a golden shower, but it was to satisfy his lusts. These gods were depicted as beings driven by what we would call the desires of the flesh, whereas the same could not be said of Yahweh (God). Furthermore Jesus was fully God and fully man and his life did not begin at conception but he has always been I Am, in other words eternal. It must also be said that the prophet Isaiah prophesied the virgin birth of Christ hundreds of years before it took place. So even though Jesus’ birth might be after some of the other gods, the special nature of his birth was predicted much earlier than most of his so-called counterparts.
One of the closest parallels that have been drawn to Christianity must be the myth of Mithras mentioned in the introduction. But on closer inspection we find that the facts have once again been twisted to suit an agenda.
Firstly, although Mithras was born on the 25th of December, he was not born in a cave but from a rock. Sculptures of Mithras show him emerging from a rock at his ‘birth’.
Secondly, the Bible makes no mention of the date on which Jesus was born. The early Christians celebrated the 6th of January (as some still do to this day). In all likelihood the 25th of December was chosen by Constantine in 336 AD as the date to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Thirdly, Mithras was not a travelling teacher, he was a god and never explicitly promised eternal life. Why would one want to follow a god in the first place if there was no promise of a better future?
Finally, he did not sacrifice himself, but killed a bull, whose blood was supposed cleanse the sins of his followers. We also have no textual evidence to support a resurrection, and most of the other claims such as the Lord’s Supper, and about him being the way the truth and the life, is Christian theology that was later imposed on this religion.
In the final analysis, there is just not enough evidence to convict Christianity of being a copycat religion. History affirms that Christians worship the real Jesus, not some fake knock off invented to suit our needs.
Indeed Jesus at no time promised his followers a bed of roses, but that they would have tribulation in this world. Hardly the kind of message that would draw followers unless he actually was the way, the truth and the life.