Jesus, the copy cat?
By Lee Strobel
The idea of the mythological Jesus is all over the internet and in
popular books. The claim is basically this: Christianity is actually a
copycat religion that stole its beliefs from earlier mythology or
so-called "mystery religions." In other words, the resurrection of Jesus
never happened – it was merely a story that Christians plagiarized from
This idea was popularized by The Da Vinci Code, which said:
"Nothing in Christianity is original." And when the claim is first
presented, the evidence sounds strong. For instance, proponents say that
long before Jesus, there was a mystery religion built around worship of
a mythological god named Mithras. They say Mithras was born of a
virgin…in a cave…on December 25…was considered a great traveling
teacher…had 12 disciples…sacrificed himself for world peace…was buried
in a tomb…and rose again three days later.
Does that sound familiar? On the surface, it seems like strong
evidence that Christianity stole its beliefs about Jesus from Mithraism.
In fact, you might be feeling spiritual vertigo. How would you answer
this challenge? Well, let’s look at the other side of the story. We’ll
go down the list of supposed parallels between Mithras and Jesus.
Mithras was born of a virgin in a cave. That’s what
popular writers say, but when you go back to the original myth, you find
that Mithras actually emerged fully grown out of a rock – and he was
wearing a hat! There was no virgin and no cave. Besides, nowhere does
the Bible say Jesus was born in a cave anyway.
Mithras was born on December 25. Okay, but so what? The
Bible doesn’t tell us the date that Jesus was born. Some think it was in
the spring; others think it was in January. It wasn’t until centuries
later that Christians chose Dec. 25 as the date to celebrate his birth
because it was close to the Winter Solstice when there were many pagan
celebrations and Christians hoped to influence those celebrations for
Christ. So there’s no parallel between Mithras and Jesus here either.
Mithras was a traveling teacher with 12 disciples. No, he was supposedly a god, not a teacher, and the Iranian Mithras had one follower while the Roman Mithras had two – not 12.
Mithras sacrificed himself for world peace. No, he didn’t! He was known for killing a bull. He didn’t sacrifice himself for anything or anyone.
Mithras was buried in a tomb and resurrected after three days. No, there’s no record of any belief regarding the death of Mithras, and hence there was no resurrection at all.
Look what happened: The parallels between Mithras and Jesus
evaporated when they were put under the light of scrutiny. And here’s
the clincher: Though some of it's ideas were in circulation before Jesus came, the Mithras mystery
religion as we now know it didn’t even exist in the West until after Christianity! So
Christianity couldn’t have stolen its beliefs from it.
The nearly universal consensus of scholars around the world is that
there are no examples of any mythological gods dying and rising from the
dead that came before Jesus. These resurrection myths came after Christianity! So obviously Christianity could not have borrowed from them. On the contrary, they borrowed from Christianity.
Senior Swedish scholar T.N.D. Mettinger said he was going to take a
decidedly minority position and claim there may have been a few of these
stories before Jesus, but then he analyzed them and said there were
absolutely no parallels between them and Jesus because these myths dealt
with such things as the vegetation cycle. Ultimately, Mettinger
concludes: "The death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique
character in the history of religions."
Also, see our response to 'Zeitgeist the movie
', which argues that Christianity is based on the myth of Horus, the Egyptian god.