[Much of this is my interpretation of the incredible work of Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Mike Licona.]
No, not another one of these parallel-mania posts, where everything that is about Jesus parallels other gods! It is interesting how things that we were once passionate about lose their luster. I wrote a lot about Jesus. But people still don’t realize how strong the argument from analogy is, which says that Jesus’ deeds and words were literary creations. He is irrelevant to me, yet he persists.
To be sure, I view the writings about Jesus as literature, which Helms reminds us of below, but I can’t put Jesus to rest. Because recently I was reminded how a significant other would use Jesus as a refuge from being accountable to others(i).
The Gospels are, it must be said with gratitude, works of art, the supreme fictions in our culture, narratives produced by enormously influential literary artists who put their art in the service of a theological vision. It is, of course, not uncommon to recognize literary artistry in the Gospels; there is perhaps no more beautiful short story than “The Prodigal Son,” no more moving sentence in all world literature than “I am with you always, until the end of time” (Matt. 28:20) 
This is an old post rewritten for the sake of brevity and clarity. In my distant past, this was influenced by my heroes: Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Mike Licona. At the time, I wasn’t too careful about citing. But I assure you that I was very conservative with the evidence and even used Christian scholars’ and theologian’s own research that actually works against them.
Can’t Take Him Seriously
I’m baffled when others ask why I don’t take Jesus Christ as a god and savior seriously, especially when we remember that Jesus is not the only god. It would be nothing but special pleading for me to take one serious and forget the others. In fact, there are other dying and rising sons (daughters) of gods who go through a passion (suffering) to obtain victory over death .
The ones predating Christianity include Osiris from the mystery religions – a son of a deity that offered an afterlife for those baptized into his death and resurrection – Romulus, a Roman God – whose death and resurrection was celebrated in annual passion plays and born of a virgin – while Inanna, a Sumerian goddess – had a resurrection and escaped from the underworld .
They Knew It in Advance
Robert Price, a once Jesus worshiper with a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology, has the following to say about religious leaders that admitted to parallels that were obviously problematic at the time.
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 would never have resorted to something like that Satan knew it would happen and counterfeit it in advance?
I enjoy Robert Price’s creativity enough to include this quote from him that is talking about how defenders of Christianity argue over something that never happened…it is just a story.
What evangelical apologists are still trying to show…is that their version of the resurrection was the most compatible with accepting all the details of the gospel Easter narratives as true and non-negotiable…[D]efenders of the resurrection assume that their opponents agree with them that all the details are true, that only the punch line is in question. What they somehow do not see is that to argue thus is like arguing that the Emerald City of Oz must actually exist since, otherwise, where would the Yellow Brick Road lead?….We simply have no reason to assume that anything an ancient narrative tells us is true.
Theologians Know This
Many more mythical gods were often transformed into historical figures, although they may not predate Christianity, perhaps because the evidence did not survive or was destroyed by their competitor’s religion (Christianity) . I bring up the similarities because this was obviously not made from whole cloth because the motifs and themes from these others are too uncanny.
How can we be sure that it wasn’t the other way around? That is, what if Jesus was more original than the others? Does it matter? The point besides an argument by analogy is that people are mythmakers. What is more likely the authors had a creative vision, or Jesus actually said and did what the authors said he said and did?
Gregory Boyd, a Christian apologist, sums up my argument from analogy for me. Gee, thank you!
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 Motif Is What Counts
The following list of mythological gods, some from the mystery religions, share some characteristics with Jesus. 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 a dramatic way and may be used to comfort and satisfy human curiosity, while often being used as a tool for propaganda.
Gods That Become History
All of this below was sourced from the Christian and theologian Mike Licona. Mike Licona is a bright guy and knows his history although he has concluded in debates with Richard Carrier that Jesus was resurrected. This of course isn’t surprising.
These are mainly gods that have been historicized in that they were gods at first but then were cast as actual historical figures on earth, by way of mouth or through literature. As far as Jesus, I am indifferent to whether or not he was mythical or if he existed as an actual person (iii).
- Jesus: born a virgin, son of a god, divine judge, communal meal, savior, miracles, crucified, resurrected, ascended
- 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 under-world, communal wine, rival of Christianity
- Hercules (Greece) – performed miracles, ascended to Mt Olympus and became a god
- Hermes (Greece) – guides souls to under-world, 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, ascends to heaven
- Orpheus (Greece) – descends to under-world
- Tammuz (Sumeria) – resurrection debated, descends to under-world
- Zalmoxis () – death assured an afterlife (immortality of the soul), resurrection debated
History That Becomes Legend
In addition to mythological gods transformed into history, there were also people transformed into legend by mythologizing them. 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
There is reason to believe that Appolonius came after Jesus. Either way, this is still evidence that humans are mythmakers. It doesn’t matter who influenced who. Even if we assume that God exists and naturalism can be violated, the argument stands that it is so highly more probable that the literary writers were being creative than Jesus’ divine deeds being grounded in reality.
The fallacy of special pleading is when we are unwilling to apply the same set of standards when evaluating our own god as we would do for other gods (iv). The argument I’m making is an inductive, or analogical-type, so the more features the comparing god has in common with Jesus, then the more likely Jesus is similar to the comparing god. That is, our inference drawn will be stronger.
- some gods are sons of gods
- we accept these sons of gods as mythical
- Jesus is the son of a god
- therefore Jesus is mythical too. [his qualities not Him (iii)]
- [add more similar attributes to make argument stronger]
But this, like all inductive reasoning, is only in probabilistic terms, and the conclusion is not guaranteed. The argument is only as strong as how good 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 in what “further respect” is important here? (ii)
This “further respect” is that most of these features are divine-like. We know from experience that divine-like or supernatural is most definitely a result of human creativity. That is, it is mythology. It is a fact that humans engage in myth-making, we always have, and always will. Why in the world would we then jump to the conclusion that God did it if we know that we do it all of the time?
i) I noticed that this person not only had a better relationship with Jesus than with me, but it was OK for her to behave in ways that would severely affect the emotional wellbeing of another, just as long as she confided in Jesus. That is not only delusional but pathological.
ii) Was that sleight of hand? I said just because Jesus has some similar qualities in some sense that we can’t jump to the conclusion that He is similar to the others in some “further respect”. I am saying that this “further respect” is that one thing that all of these attributes have in common is that they are supernatural.
That is the thread that ties them together, and the one that counts! It makes no difference if one is a son and the other one is a daughter. The variation can be easily explained by other processes of syncretism, creativity, and or fabrication.
iii) There is a good chance that Jesus is mythical. It took me a while to be convinced, but Richard Carrier’s book “On the Historicity of Jesus” did it; it’s a masterpiece for anyone interested in history and logic. As Einstein has said if the idea is not absurd at first, then there is no hope for it.
iv) Technically the fallacy of special pleading is that we ignore evidence that would work against our argument by making our case “special” and exempt. But that is the same thing as saying that we don’t apply the same evaluative standards as we do for other gods.
 Boyd, Gregory A.. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Book Group.
 Carrier, Richard. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed.
 Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield Phoenix Press.
 Carrier, Richard. Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith. Philosophy Press.
 Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.