Conventional wisdom views Jesus Christ as being a novel and revolutionary person, whose message of love and kindness was rejected by the wicked Jews and Pagans, because they were evil and stupid. This is Christian propaganda of the worst kind, and absolutely untrue; the reason that many could not accept Jesus Christ, was because they saw him as an obvious copy of Pagan spiritual tradition. Those who argue against the historical Jesus point out that the Jesus Christ of the gospels didn’t say or do anything new – how could Jesus be the Word, Truth and Life, if his birth, death, resurrection, and every single detail of his earthly ministry was already recorded in earlier mythological traditions?
There is no question that these similarities exist, and were often pointed out to Christians of the first few centuries of the Church, because Christians were always defending themselves against them. In all of the collected literature of the early Church, however, the similarities between Jesus and other Pagan figures were never denied by Christians. Nor, as they are today, were they called accidents or coincidences. Instead, early Christians formulated the only possible explanation they could think of, an argument referred to as Diabolical Mimicry.
“Diabolical Mimicry” is fascinating because the argument is nearly as old as the beginning of the Christian movement and used widely by Christian apologists for nearly 4 centuries, which shows that not only were the similarities between Jesus and Pagan gods apparent to both Christians and Pagans, but that they were never refused by apologists as coincidental, nor a result of reverse-copying, as is claimed today. Diabolical Mimicry was the earliest Christian response to the Christ Myth theory, which has plagued Christians who believe in the historical Jesus for nearly 2,000 years. The argument claims that Satan used “plagiarism by anticipation,” or a pre-emptive strike against the gospel stories centuries before Jesus was born, by spreading rumors of other god-men who did what Jesus was going to do later.
“But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.” Justin Martyr, First Apology
However, along with blaming wicked demons (which is about as reliable as “The little green men did it!”) Justin also makes the claim that Plato and the Egyptians, whose doctrines prefigure Christian theology, copied from the Old Testament! This argument is sometimes continued even today, by those who have read neither Plato nor the Old Testament; nor the ancient philosophical texts of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians, in whose writings (which came several thousand years before even the Old Testament) can be found similar similarities. The truth is, there is an underlying mythological theme behind most of the world’s religious and philosophical works, and if any of it was hand written by God, then all of it was. (Which, incidentally, is the aim of this website: not to disprove religion or spirituality, but to refute the primacy of any religion over any other.)
Just what were these similarities between Jesus and Pagan gods that were so challenging and irrefutable that Christians could only blame Satan for them? Justin Martyr gives a brief list, which includes the Virgin Birth, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension!
“When we say that the Word, who is first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven; we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter (Zeus).” Justin Martyr, First Apology
Christ Mythers often include the following, based on comparisons between Attis, Adonis, Dionysus, Mithras, Osiris, Tammuz, Baal, Krishna and Buddha:
• First-born Son of God Miracle worker (walked on water, raised the dead)
• Had 12 disciples Born of a virgin, in a manger, on December 25th
• Shepherds and wise men followed a star to worship him
• Taught people to love each other, turn the other cheek
• Offers eternal life to those who believe
• Was crucified for our sins
• Buried for three days, descended to Hell for three days
• Came back to life, ascended into heaven
• Will come again to judge the living and the dead
• Seated at the right hand of the Father
• Followers have a baptism and a ritual meal involving his body and blood.
Regarding the nature of the Eucharist, many critics say that Pagan mystery cults may have had a ritual meal of wine and bread, but there is no proof that they considered them to be the body and blood of their savior. Actually, the specific rituals, sacraments and customs of the early Church were identical to other mystery cults, including the Eucharist.
“The devil, whose business is to pervert the truth, mimics the exact circumstances of the Divine Sacraments…Thus he celebrates the oblation of bread, and brings in the symbol of the resurrection. Let us therefore acknowledge the craftiness of the devil, who copies certain things of those that be Divine.” Tertullian, (Jesus Mysteries)
“Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.” Justin Martyr, First Apology
“He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made on with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.” An inscription to Mithras
If Christianity was similar to Greek and Roman religions, why was it persecuted? Isn’t the fact that it was so widely criticized a proof that it really was different? Christianity acknowledged the similarities between themselves and Pagan traditions, but then concluded that there was one main difference: All of the other gods before Jesus were mythological, and Jesus Christ was real.
“But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically.” Justin Martyr, First Apology
The same response is used by modern apologists: for example, if Pagans had a ritual meal involving the body and blood of their crucified lord, it was only symbolic, while the Christian Eucharist actually and miraculously, is really, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is like one of Magritte’s surrealist paintings, that shows a picture of an apple, with the caption, “This is not an apple.” Of course it’s not a real apple, but it would be impossible to prove that there isn’t some correlation, some relationship, between an actual apple and a picture of an apple. Nevertheless, Christians believed that while Jesus was in nearly every way identical to other Pagan saviors, the fact that he TRULY completed all those great works made him something special. However, again it must be pointed out that early Christians could offer no evidence for their belief in the historical Jesus, and have always had to rely on faith in order to believe that Jesus was truly born, truly crucified (in the flesh), truly suffered (as a real person, not just as a myth), and truly came back from the dead.
“I have perceived that you are firmly settled in unwavering faith, being nailed, as it were, to the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in flesh and spirit, and firmly planted in love in the blood of Christ, being fully convinced as touching our Lord that He is truly of the race of David after the flesh, and Son of God after the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch truly nailed for us in the flesh…And He truly suffered, as also that he truly raised himself up.” Ignatius, Epistle to Smyrnaeans
The Pagan Philosopher Celsus pointed out the obvious question, why should the Christian god be considered real, when everything said about him was identical to Pagan mythology?
“Are these distinctive happenings unique to the Christians – and if so, how are they unique? Or are ours to be accounted myths and theirs believed? What reasons do the Christians give for the distinctiveness of their beliefs? In truth there is nothing at all unusual about what the Christians believe, except that they believe it to the exclusion of more comprehensive truths about God.” Celsus, on Christianity
A striking version of this argument can also be found on the excellent website, Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth:
When Osiris is said to bring his believers eternal life in Egyptian Heaven, contemplating the unutterable, indescribable glory of God, we understand that as a myth. When the sacred rites of Demeter at Eleusis are described as bringing believers happiness in their eternal life, we understand that as a myth. When Vespatian’s spittle healed a blind man, we understand that as a myth. When Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from death, we understand that as a myth. When the Pythia , the priestess at the Oracle at Delphi, in Greece, prophesied, and over and over again for a thousand years, the prophecies came true, we understand that as a myth. When Dionysus turned water into wine, we understand that as a myth. When Alexander the Great is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, we understand that as a myth. So how come when Jesus is described as the Son of God, born of a mortal woman, according to prophecy, turning water into wine, raising girls from the dead, and healing blind men with his spittle, and setting it up so His believers got eternal life in Heaven contemplating the unutterable, indescribable glory of God, and off to Hades-er, I mean Hell-for the bad folks… how come that’s not a myth?
Similarities between Jesus and Pagan gods are nearly always dismissed out of hand by apologists, who reject them as either coincidences, or the result of inter-faith “borrowing.” Further, many see them as the wishful and deceptive thinking of Christ-mythers, who, having a specific agenda, cannot be trusted with empirical research. One Christian apologist, whose site www.kingdavid8.com gives an extensive and thoughtful refutation of Christ Myth theories and online sources, responds to the accusation that no evidence will satisfy him by saying, “Let me make it clear: Any source that isn’t specifically trying to draw a parallel to Jesus WILL satisfy me.”
In this regard, the only sources available to skeptics of the Christ Myth theory are original sources; all the modern scholars who quote the similarities between Jesus and Pagan gods are Christ-mythers. Why would any modern scholar provide this kind of evidence, unless to draw a parallel to Jesus? And if you don’t want to spend the time to learn a new language and do the research, then you can’t trust anyone. To find similarities, skeptics should read the full texts in their original language, because the translations that have been produced often echo the culturally assimilated Christian paradigm of the author. However, reading the English version is better than nothing; I have been careful in this website to link all quotes to online, English translated sources from reputable 3rd parties, so that anyone interested can read the original texts.
Given the lack of evidence surrounding Jesus, it is very difficult to say anything of consequence about him, (unless, of course, the Bible is taken to be a historical document on faith), either in support of or against his physical existence. What can be provided are thousands of little, inconsequential facts, quotes, and bits of historical trivia, which fill in the outline of a general theory concerning Jesus. While each one could be readily dismissed as either a coincidence (Jesus had 12 disciples, Israel had 12 tribes, the sun has 12 zodiac signs) or a later assimilation (Jesus, Attis, and Mithras, all born on December 25th), given that they are presented together in an encompassing theory, the ratio of possibility decreases with every dismissal. If I take 5 statements which support the mythical Jesus, and refuse each one as coincidence, with a reasonable estimate of probability at around 1 in 5, this ratio increases dramatically in proportion to the number of given statements.
Specific similarities between Jesus and Pagan mythology are hotly contested, and the research used to obtain them always questioned and disbelieved; therefore I won’t list any on this page. It is more than enough to show, as I have done, that the similarities include the very core beliefs of Christianity; for what would Jesus be if we remove the Virgin Birth, the Passion and Resurrection, and even his divine role as Son of God? And the fact the Diabolical Mimicry was used to aid Christian Apologists, who had no other explanation for the similarities between Christianity and earlier traditions, excuses the Christ mythicist from the accusation of “making it all up” or seeing connections that aren’t there. They are there, because early Christians knew about them; therefore any scholar would be well within their rights to seek out possible connections between Christianity and Pagan mythology, because obviously those connections, which were once so apparent, have gotten harder to see.
Christians have spent 2,000 years distorting and destroying the evidence of Jesus Christ’s mythical background, and contemporary scholarship is so steeped in the tradition of the historical Jesus that a mere reference to Jesus can be listed with something like, “No serious scholar doubts that Jesus was historical.” Even the dictionaries and the encyclopedias, those havens for irrefutable facts, never question the historicity of Jesus; and yet, the debate over the historical Jesus continues. Are there any other “facts” that continue to be strenuously contested? Like all new theories, the idea of a mythical Jesus is up against the all-prevailing assumptions of society.
It is true, there are not many direct sources which claim that Jesus was a myth. A Christ mythicist has to read into the available evidence and form a hypothesis, a theory; but they assume no more than any Christ-Historist, who looks into the absolute void of evidence surrounding the founder of Christianity, and still takes for granted that Jesus was a real person.
It is most interesting to me that when approached with arguments for the mythical Christ, Christians will deny outright all similarities; the internet is full of people discussing Mithras, for example, as a prefigure to Christian mythology, and also of apologists protesting that Jesus and Mithras have nothing in common at all. Mithraism was a mystery cult popular among Roman soldiers, that spread throughout the Roman empire. It was a type of sun worship, full of astrological symbols, and also an initiation religion focused on spiritual liberation through death and rebirth.
The similarities between Mithras and Jesus are easily dismissed today because the ancient practice of this religion is different than the modern practices of Christianity; however, early Christianity was not the same as its modern counterpart, and the similarities at one time were impossible to refute. They are heavily documented in early Christian writings because of the serious threat they posed to Christian faith. Denying these similarities takes a massive determination of will, as well as the ability to refuse as nonsense all historical records relating to the Christian movement.
Charles François Dupuis wrote about the similarities between Mithraism and Christianity as early as 1798. Dupuis refers to the Christian apologists as sources for these similarities, as well as the arguments for Diabolical Mimicry. There are many more comparisons to be made than Dupuis notes, but I like his writing style and overall emphasis, and the fact that he, like many of his contemporaries, was endorsing the Christ Myth theory over 200 years ago. The following passage is quite long, but culminates in a striking paragraph on the primacy of Mithraism.
“It is chiefly in the religion of Mithras or the God Sun, worshipped under that name by the Magi, that we find mostly those features of analogy with the death and resurrection of Christ and with the mysteries of the Christians. Mithras, who was also born on the 25th December like Christ, died as he did; and he had his sepulchre, over which his disciples came to shed tears. During the night the priests carried his image to a tomb, expressly prepared for him; he was laid out on a litter, like the Phœnician Adonis. These funeral ceremonies, like those on good Friday, were accompanied with funeral dirges and the groans of his priests; after having spent some time with these expressions of feigned grief; after having lighted the sacred flambeau or their Paschal candle and anointed the image with Chrism or perfumes, one of them came forward and pronounced with the gravest mien these words: “Be of good cheer, sacred band of Initiates (“initiés,”) your God has risen from the dead; his pains and his sufferings shall be your salvation.”
“[…]And it would really seem, in this instance, as if Firmicus, in his onset on the ancient religions, had set his heart on it, to collect all the traits of analogy, which their mysteries had with those of the Christians. He clings chiefly to the Mithraic Initiation, of which he draws a pretty uniform parallel with that of Christ, and to which it has so much resemblance, merely because it is one and the same sect. It is true, he explains all this conformity, which exists between these two religions, by asserting, as Tertullian and St. Justin did, that a long time before there were Christians in existence, the Devil had taken pleasure to have their future mysteries and ceremonies copied by his worshippers. This may be an excellent reason for certain Christians, such as there are plenty in our days, but an extremely paltry one for men of common sense. As far as we are concerned, we, who do not believe in the Devil, and who are not, like them, in his secrets, we shall simply observe, that the religion of Christ, founded like all the others on the worship of the Sun, has preserved the same dogmas, the same practices, the same mysteries or very nearly so; that everything has been in common; because the God was the same; that there were only the accessories, which could differ, but that the basis was absolutely the same.
“The oldest apologists of the Christian religion agree, that the Mithraic religion had its sacraments, its baptism, its penitence, its Eucharist and its consecration by mystical words; that the catechumens of that religion had preparatory trials, more rigorous than those of the Christians; that the Initiates or the faithful marked their foreheads with a sacred sign; that they admitted also the dogma of the resurrection; that they were presented with the crown, which ornamented the forehead of the martyrs; that their sovereign Pontiff was not allowed to marry several times; that they had their virgins and their laws of continence; finally, that they had everything, which has since been practiced by the Christians.
“Of course, Tertullian calls again the Devil to his assistance, in order to explain away so complete a resemblance. But as there is not the slightest difficulty, without the intervention of the Devil, to perceive, that whenever two religions resemble each other so completely, the oldest must be the mother and the youngest the daughter, we shall conclude, that since the worship of Mithras is infinitely older than that of Christ, and its ceremonies a great deal anterior to those of the Christians, that therefore the Christians are incontestably either sectarians or plagiarists of the religion of the Magi.” Dupuis, The Origin of All Religious Worship
Today it is argued that Mithras borrowed from the Christians. While the dating of religious movements is difficult to trace exactly, it is significant that early Christians never made this claim. Instead they relied upon the Diabolical Mimicry argument, on else on the ancient tradition of the Old Testament, and argued that the Egyptians borrowed from Moses, and that Plato borrowed from the Egyptians, and so on until the entire wisdom of the world was taken from the Jews. A more enlightened Christian may agree with that great apologist of the 21st century, C.S. Lewis, who, responding to Jung and other mythologists, accepts and supports the idea of Pagan Christs:
“The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens-at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. . . . God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “pagan Christs”: they ought to be there-it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic-and is not the sky itself a myth-shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.” C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock
While I love C.S. Lewis for his clarity and honesty, I find that he tends to miss very large points; for example, why would Jesus re-enact ancient myths? He must have been familiar with them, so why not do something new? Unless he was purposely attempting to appear mythical, by copying Pagan fables. And more importantly, why would God choose to set up so confusing a system of salvation? And why would he choose to limit this salvation to those people who came into contact with the story of Jesus? This is an argument put forth by Celsus about 1800 years ago, and never adequately resolved by Christian apologists.
It boils down to this: if Jesus Christ is the salvation, and God loves everybody, then Jesus cannot have been a historical person. The historical Jesus has not reached everyone, and even those whom he has reached, have not unanimously accepted him; not necessarily out of malice or impurity, but for various socio-political environmental factors not under their control. If Jesus was a historical person, and what Christians claim, then God is a discriminating tyrant, who has already chosen his favorites and placed them with Christ’s saving graces. If we agree, however, with St. Anselm and the general public about God being the absolute best idea that we can have, then he must be good and wise enough to provide an equal amount of salvation to all, which, of necessity, rules out the historical Christ.
The articles in this section are part of a 50,000 word treatise on the historical Jesus and Christ Myth Theory, dealing with Christian history, the mystical significance of Christian symbols, and the mistaken belief that Jesus Christ was a historical person. You can download the entire collection for free as a PDF file ebook by clicking here!