Is Christianity plagiarized paganism?
There is no doubt that many of our modern religious customs, like Easter and church steeples, were heavily influenced by pagan traditions. It should not come as a surprise that the practice of Christianity has been influenced by culture, and recognizing this influence does nothing to discredit the faith. Much more alarming is the idea that Christianity itself is merely a collection of pagan myths foisted onto the life of a Jewish rabbi named Jesus.
Enter Gerald Massey, a colorful nineteenth century poet who dabbled in Egyptology when not writing couplets or attempting to contact the dead through Spiritualism. Despite having no formal academic background in the study of ancient Egypt, Massey published a book entitled The Natural Genesis in which he claimed that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was merely a retelling of the myth of the Egyptian god Horus.
Massey certainly presents a startling list of similarities between the falcon-headed god and Christ, claiming that Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th, that he was baptized at the age of thirty by Anup the Baptizer, that he was killed via crucifixion, and that he subsequently came back to life three days later. The Natural Genesis even argues that there is a parallel between the mythology of Horus and the biblical story of the raising of Lazarus, stating that Horus raised El-Asar-Us (an alternate name for Osiris) from the dead.
But do these similarities truly exist? Christian theologian W. Ward Gasque, Ph.D received emails from ten Egyptologists considered to be leaders in the field in reply to his questions about Massey’s work. The scholars unanimously dismissed the book and one stated that comparing Horus to Jesus is “fringe nonsense.” Massey blatantly misrepresented historical facts, claiming that Herod the Great was a character based on a mythological creature called a hydra despite numerous period documents clearly proving that he was an actual person. Another egregious error is Massey’s claim that Horus’ mother was a virgin. Depending on which myths one reads, Horus’ mother was either Hathor or Isis, both of whom were fertility goddesses. Additionally, there is no evidence of a figure in Egyptian mythology called Anup the Baptizer, nor was Horus crucified and resurrected three days later.
Despite this, the theories set forth in The Natural Genesis influenced other scholars and continue to find their way into the mainstream of the discussion on faith through personalities such as Bill Maher. Proponents of atheism have drawn further parallels between the life of pagan deities and the life of Jesus, giving the Horus treatment to a large number of ancient gods. Like Massey’s work, these arguments are riddled with inaccuracies and blatant falsehoods, generally of three main varieties.
1. Partial truths
Many times a similarity that would otherwise not be noteworthy can be drawn between a religious figure and Christ by omitting, adding or changing important details. The laughably technical truth that the Roman god Mithra (or Mithras) was the son of a virgin is much less persuasive when it is revealed that he was birthed from a rock. In the same way, stating that Mithra fed twelve disciples his body and blood is much more faith-shaking than the truth that Mithra gave an unspecified number of his followers the flesh of a bull.
Some of the parallels drawn between Christ and pagan gods can only be called lies. The claim that Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, was born of a virgin directly contradicts every ancient account of the myth that we have.
3. Comparisons to later religions and influences
In their ignorance, atheists oftentimes claim that Christian doctrine is based on a religion that early Christians could not possibly have been aware of. Comparisons of Christ to the Aztec sun-god Quetzacoatl are completely illogical as Christendom did not encounter South American culture until the fifteenth century. Another variation of this error is seen in the comparison of the Phrygian cult of Attis, which historian A. T. Fear says never bore any resemblance to Christianity until after the church was already established. The rapidly growing influence of Christianity is believed by most modern scholars of religious history to have shaped the mythology of Attis rather than the other way around.
In the end, though, it is the Old Testament that is the best defense of the unadulterated nature of Christian doctrine. It can be easy to think of Christianity as a mere 2,000 years old when in reality Christianity is a continuation of a much older religious tradition. The first thirty-nine books of the Bible are filled with prophecy concerning the Messiah. Contained in the pages of the Old Testament are predictions of the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), the crucifixion (Psalm 22; Zechariah 12:10), the resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; Psalm 16:9-10; 49:15), and the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death (Isaiah 53:6-12) along with many other important elements of Christianity. To say that early Christianity copycatted pagan mythology when a certain Christology was already demanded by the Scriptures is ludicrous. Judaism predates nearly all other faiths and abhorred outside religious influence.
The integrity of Christian doctrine is not called into any serious question by comparing it to the mythologies of other religions and cults. Rather, we must question the academic integrity of the New Atheism’s apologists when they stoop to using such arguments.