Is the story of Jesus just a recycled version of Ancient Myths?

Numerous people claim that the story of Christ is not only a fake story but also a recycled one from many ancient myths. This claim was mostly promoted by Gerald Massey, a self-proclaimed Egyptologist. He claimed that multiple gods share the virgin birth on 25th of December, and that it is not a Christian story. Massey concluded this based on his own translations of ancient texts, however, his translations were found to be inaccurate. His translations and studies have, therefore, been refuted by other Egyptologists. In his book “Did Jesus Exist? The Birth of a Divine Man”, Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar focusing on the history of Christ, refuted several claims of why and how the story of Christ is a recycled story. One of the researchers he refuted was Kersey Graves, who wrote a book named ‘’The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviours’’ in the 19th century. Numerous self-proclaimed scholars blindly followed his work, without looking at his work critically. Graves mentioned 35 people, according to his own research, who had exactly the same story of Christ. Some of these people were Horus, Krishna, Mithras, and Apollonius. 

The main claim from Graves is: ‘’It is argued that, as the story of the incarnation of the Christians’ Savior is of more recent date than that of these oriental and ancient religions (as is conceded by Christians themselves), the origin of the former is thus indicated and foreshadowed as being an outgrowth from, if not a plagiarism upon the latter-a borrowed copy, of which the pagan stories furnish the original’’. Ehrman refuted this saying that there is no claim of a virgin birth of a god in neither any mythology or Eastern religion. Something that did happen is that the birth of several historical figures in itself was seen as a miracle, however, this was not linked to the virginity of the mother. Furthermore, the mothers of these figures had intimate relationships with (demi)gods.  Noteworthy is that Graves lived in a period right after the renaissance (18th century), which is known as a period wherein humanity started rebelling against the Christian faith.

Let’s take a closer look at the story of Christ and the proposed parallels. 

Horus 

The claim is that Horus was born from a virgin, the god Isis, and that Horus was baptized by a person named ‘’Anup the Baptist’’. Anup was later on beheaded, just as John the Baptist was beheaded. Horus went for a certain time into the desert, where he was tempted by the devil, and he, furthermore, raised a person named Asar from death and that Asar means Lazarus. In addition, Horus is claimed to have had 12 disciples, just like Christ had. 

Horus, actually, was an Egyptian god of the heavens (the sun and the moon) and war. He is depicted as a human with a Falcon head. The real story of Horus goes as follows. Horus’ father, the god Osiris, died in a battle and Isis took his body and raised him from death for a certain time in order to get pregnant from him. Regarding Anup the Baptist, there has not been a person named Anup in Egyptian mythology. Massey just used this name in order to strengthen his case against Christ, and later research showed that he twisted the Egyptian God Anubis into Anup. Horus also did not enter into the desert to be tempted by the devil, actually, in Egyptian mythology Horus was poisoned by another god called Seth (who killed his father), and that the god Thot revived him. Regarding that Horus raised Asar from death; Asar is Greek for Osiris, who was his father. His father was, as previously mentioned, raised by his mother Isis to impregnate her. Horus also did not have 12 disciples, this is an inaccurate reference to his sons, who were not only less than 12 but also demigods. 

Krishna

The claim is that Krishna was also born from a virgin, named Devaka/Devaki, on 25th of December and that Krishna was crucified for our sins, arose from death and ascended into heaven. In addition, he was crucified between two thieves. 

There are four main sources on the life of Krishna, namely: the Mahabharata (poems written by Krishna), the Harivamsha (seen as a sequel to the Mahabharata and resembles the Books of Chronicles from the Old Testament in its content), the Vishnu Purana (a work mainly concerned with cosmology) and the Bhagavata Purana (a work mainly concerned with worship and philosophy). Devaki was ‘’mentally’’ impregnated by Vasudeva, Krishna’s father, yet she was not a virgin as Krishna was their eighth child. Interestingly, the virgin birth is not mentioned in any work mentioning Krishna (the above mentioned works), and is seen as an addition from the 10th century. Krishna’s birthday is one of the most important Indian holidays, although it is not celebrated on 25th of December but at the end of the summer. Krishna has also not been crucified, he was murdered by a hunter named Jara who shot him in his heel. In ancient India, people were not crucified let alone being crucified between robbers. They dealt differently with robbers, based on their ideology. Also, Krishna did not die for our sins as he was cursed twice. At last, he did not ascend into heaven, as his body was cremated.

Mithras 

The claim is that Mithras was also born from a virgin on the 25th of December and that several shepherds were present at his birth, and Mithras was a known teacher and the good shepherd for his people whom he served with his 12 disciples. Mithras died and resurrected after three days, and his followers kept celebrating Sunday as their lord’s day. 

Mithras, a god from the old Persian mythology, was actually someone who was worshipped by a subpopulation of the Romans, who practiced mysticism. The followers of Mithras lived side by side with Christians in Rome, in the first four centuries, and called themselves the ‘’followers of the Mysteries of Mithras’’. Later on, he was also worshipped by Zoroastrianism.  Mithras was not born on the 25th of December, and the shepherds who witnessed his birth were only mentioned centuries after the New Testament was written, thus likely copied from the New Testament. Mithras was also not seen as a shepherd, only as a mediator. Not a mediator between god and man, but between the ‘’good’’ and ‘’bad’’ gods known in Zoroastrianism. No Persian nor Roman tradition and/or writing about Mithras mentioned that he was a teacher nor shepherd for his people. Mithras did also not die for our sins, the only related story known about Mithras is a story in which he killed a bull. There is no source mentioning that Mithras had died, let alone been resurrected. Tertullian of Carthage (220 AD) mentioned that the followers of Mithras used to enact an Eastern play.

Apollonius of Tyana

Apollonius of Tyana is a man who lived around the same time as Jesus Christ. In his new testament textbook, Dr. Bart Ehrman states that he was also conceived by a virgin, was promised to be divine, and an Angel visited his mother before his birth, born miraculously, gathered many followers, and convinced them that he is divine by performing miracles. His opposition eventually delivered them to the Roman authorities and he was killed. There’s no record of the way he was killed however some historical documents claim that he rose from the dead and appeared to his followers and ascended to heaven where he lived eternally in heaven. The source of information is the book written by Sophist Philostratus.

Now the similarity here is more obvious and compelling, but not the historical background. Apollonius is thought to have been born in 40 CE so his story comes after the death and  resurrection of Christ. It is therefore impossible for Jesus, or the apostles who documented the life of Jesus, to have copied from the life of Apollonius. The contrary might be true though.

In addition, the life of Apollonius wasn’t documented by eyewitnesses. The earliest and most complete documentation has been developed by Philostratus around 218-238 AD, more than 120 years after Apollonius died. This biography was written to fulfill a request by Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus and mother of Caracalla. It is therefore not a reliable source and begs the question of: where were Apollonius’s devout followers after knowing that he was raised from death and ascended to heaven?

Conclusion

Numerous people get confused or doubtful when reading stories that ‘’debunk’’ Christianity, yet if we examine these stories in depth we would conclude that the claims made are not historically correct. Several groups try to debunk our faith and the claims we make using false narratives, and therefore we should always read about our faith and the authenticity of it. 

Coptic Apologetics