I’m often baffled when I get such a question as to why I don’t take Jesus Christ as a god and savior seriously. My reasons why, I hope, are apparent when one considers other literature and evidence that involve belief in the supernatural. I mean, after all, it would be nothing but special pleading for me to take one serious (Jesus Christ) and forget the rest (other gods). For example, there are dying and rising sons (daughters) of gods that go through a passion (suffering) in order to obtain victory over death that have some elements similar to Jesus. To expound upon those predating Christianity, Osiris from the mystery religions was a son of a deity and offered an afterlife for those baptized into his death and resurrection, Romulus, a Roman God, had his death and resurrection celebrated in annual passion plays and was born of a virgin, while Inanna, a Sumerian goddess, had a resurrection and escaped from the underworld [Richard Carrier]. Robert Price describes below how apologists, in the 2nd century, admitted to these parallels existing:
The early Church fathers understood [parallels] as a problem because they were already getting the same objections from pagans. They said, “What you say about Jesus we’ve been saying about Dionysus and Hercules all the time. ”What’s the big deal? I mean they didn’t believe in them either anymore. And so the Christian apologists (Justin Martyr) – the defenders of the faith – would say, “Well, yea, but this one is true. And you see Satan counterfeited it in advance because he knew this day would come.”Boy, I’ll tell you that tells you two things right there that even they didn’t even deny that these other Jesus like characters were before Jesus or they never would have resorted to something like that Satan knew it would happen and counterfeit it in advance?
There are many more mythical gods that were often transformed into historical figures although they may not predate Christianity, perhaps because the evidence simply did not survive or was destroyed by their competitor religion. I’m using myth as in factually untrue stories that are historically improbable but symbolically meaningful [Richard Carrier]. Note, also, that I’m not insinuating that Christianity copied some of these themes out of whole cloth. What I am saying, however, is that these ideas came from the same creative cognitive faculties that also produced the mythical motifs of Jesus Christ. There’s no difference here. And so why should we reject all the other mythological gods but accept this one? In a similar vein, Gregory Boyd, a Christian apologist, proposes the following argument:
We know the Jesus story is about God visiting us and/or about a God who does something along the lines of dying and rising is not altogether unique. The history of religion and mythology is full of “incarnation-like” stories and “resurrection-like” stories. So, one could argue, if we assume that all these analogous “incarnations” and “resurrections” are mythological, we should similarly concede that the Christian version of these stories is mythological, its unique features notwithstanding.
The following list of mythological gods, some from the mystery religions, share some characteristics with Jesus. For comparison, Jesus was born of a virgin, was a son of a god, was a divine judge, had a communal meal of bread and wine, was a savior, performed miracles, was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven. Now, for these, there is by no means a one-to-one parallel here, but they share some similar features nevertheless. On the other hand, if you emphasize the differences, then you’d rightly conclude that these are quite different from Jesus. But that’s not the point. The point is that the human imagination and intellect are capable of creating etiologies – things that attempt to explain common mysteries – for example, what happens after death. Mythology is nothing more than etiology expressed in dramatic ways, and may be used to comfort and satisfy human curiosity, while often being used as a tool for propaganda. For instance, developing the virgin birth and performing miracles to show the greatness of the protagonist (e.g., Jesus Christ) is potentially propaganda. All of the following gods were fabricated (adapted from Mike Licona), so why not Jesus Christ’s divine attributes as well?
- Adonis (Syria) – ascended to heaven before death, resurrected on the 3rd day (later Christian interpretation)
- Attis (Asia Minor) – virgin born
- Baal – son of El a God, descends to the underworld, could have resurrected
- Dionysus (Greece) – son of a God Zeus, a savior, descends to underworld, communal wine, rival of Christianity, could have resurrected
- Hercules (Greece) – performed miracles, ascended to Mt Olympus and became a god
- Hermes (Greece) – guides souls to underworld, son of Zeus, created miracles as an infant
- Horus (Egypt) – son of Osiris and later son of Re, performed healing magic as a child
- Krishna (India) – born of a virgin, performed miracles as a child, resurrected, ascended to heaven
- Mithra (Persia) – a savior, divinity of light and salvation, communal bread and wine but was not considered the flesh and blood of God, ascends to heaven
- Orpheus (Greece) – descends to underworld
- Tammuz (Sumeria) – resurrection debated, descends to underworld
- Zalmoxis () – death assured an afterlife (immortality of the soul), resurrection debated
In addition to mythological gods transformed into history, there were also people transformed into mythology or legend. Once the mythology – dramatic stories and beliefs – have been created, then it can be set into historical reality, becoming legendary. These characters all share common attributes or fit common themes known as the mythical hero archetype. Jesus, as expressed in the Gospels, represents a lengthy mythical hero archetype quite well (not shown here). The following is adapted from Robert Price and note that some gods are apt for this archetype as well, not just miracle workers. There are many more attributes if curious, so please see the work of Alan Dundes for further details.
- Persecuted as a child by a tyrant: Caesar Augustus, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Jesus Christ
- Postmortem appearances: Romulus, Appolonius, Jesus Christ
- Performed miracles: Appolonius, Onus, Hanina Ben Dosa, Honi the Circle Drawer, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Asclepius, Mohammed, Jesus Christ
- Passion narratives: Appolonius, Jesus Christ
- Empty tomb stories: popular contemporary novels, Jesus Christ
Now that we’ve identified the fallacy of special pleading that some commit in which they are unwilling to apply the same set of standards when evaluating their own god as they would to the other gods, it’s time to create some arguments. The argument I’m making is an inductive, analogical argument, so the more features the comparing god has in common with Jesus, then, obviously, the more likely Jesus is similar to the comparing god. And the more similar Jesus is to the comparing god, then the stronger the inference drawn will be. For example, some gods are sons of gods that are mythical, Jesus is a son of a god, and therefore the inference can be drawn that Jesus is mythical too. [When I use mythical, I mean at the very least having mythical attributes but not necessarily the entire being.] But this, like all inductive reasoning, is only in probabilistic terms, and the conclusion is not guaranteed. Moreover, the argument is only as good as how strong the comparison is. So just because we have one attribute in common – both sons of gods – that doesn’t necessarily justify us in saying that Jesus was also similar in a further respect.
But I think we can do better than this because any one god and Jesus has other features in common, namely that some of their features are divine or that they have the capacity to perform miracles, i.e., they have the ability to do something that goes beyond what nature can accomplish. Knowledge that is accumulated over time is known as background knowledge, which comes from our scientific testing of claims, our observations and experiences. And miracles and divine features contradict our present day background knowledge – that is, these features, such as miracles and divine qualities, don’t coincide with how we know the world operates. So they have a low prior probability of occurring, and are therefore likely to be mythology. So we have other features in common – performance of miracles and divine attributes – that strengthens our inference that Jesus’ supernatural attributes are probably mythological like the other gods and miracle workers from above.
The last argument I’m making is a causal one. This essentially says that there had to be a cause for the development of what we’ve established as mythology. One possible explanation: evolutionary psychologists believe that people are born with “meaning-making” faculty and resort to myth making as a consequence of wanting to explain why things are the way they are and also for reasons of propaganda. So myth making is a human enterprise. To be clear, I am not allowing a metaphysical bias, namely that of naturalism, to skew my conclusion; these supernatural features are clearly byproducts of the human mind. Moreover, we don’t know how god functions, and, therefore, it won’t do us much good to speculate that he’s the cause. It’s much more likely that the same creative forces that created the other gods also created Jesus. And there’s no reason to believe that the minds that developed the aforementioned mythological gods were any different from the minds that developed the mythology surrounding Jesus. Jesus is engulfed by, plain and simple, mythology like the rest of them.
This post was inspired by Robert Price’s video and writings.