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Monday, December 24, 2012

You Stupid Christians! Jesus is Really Mithra! Atheists Are So Much Smarter Than Christians!



I was attending Christmas – Sorry! – Solstice services at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Bloomington, Indiana. An associate pastor of the church handed out a photocopy. The photocopy had a series of bullet points:

Mithra, the photocopy claimed, was an ancient Roman God. Mithra, the photocopy claimed, was the origin of the Jesus story. According to the pastor's handout:

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Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Mithra had twelve disciples
Mithra performed miracles
Mithra was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again
Mithra was celebrated each year at the time of His resurrection (later to become Easter)
Mithra was called "the Good Shepherd"
Mithra was considered to be the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."
Mithra celebrated a Eucharist or "Lord's Supper"

***

After the congregants read the pastor's handout, she gave us all a look that made me a bit queasy. Her look was triumphant, superior, and pitying. "See?" she said. "Those poor Christians. They are so deluded. They don't realize that their 'messiah' is really just a rehash of the Roman god Mithra."

***

In Save Send Delete I tell the true story of my yearlong debate, and love affair, with a prominent atheist. He also insisted to me that Jesus had never existed, and that the story found in the New Testament is all a mixed-up version of the Mithra myth. Interestingly, at an earlier point in his life, he had been a Christian.

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"Atheists are smarter than Christians" is a very big selling point for atheism.

Are Christians just plain stupid?

Are Atheists just plain smarter?

Is Jesus based on the Roman god Mithra?

Mithra was originally not a Roman god. He was Zoroastrian, from Persia, today's Iran. Romans adopted Mithra, dubbing him Mithras.

It's interesting that many atheists, Pagans, and New Agers make the claim that Jesus is Mithra or Mithras and that knowing that makes them smarter and Christians stupid, and that saying that makes atheists, Pagans, and New Agers honest and Christians liars. It's interesting because the claim itself is false, and it is based on ignorance and misinformation.

In fact, the bullet points about Jesus equaling Mithra, listed above, have been proven to be false.

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The Jesus-equals-Mithra claim insists that Jesus never existed.

The historical consensus is that Jesus did exist. Both religious and secular historians agree that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood man who lived and died in ancient Israel approximately during the years 0-33 A.D., give or take seven years. Historians agree that the New Testament documents are not myths, but are attempts to record the Jesus biography, and the history of the early church, accurately and factually. Historians agree that the earliest books of the New Testament were written between twenty and forty years of Jesus' death, by people who knew Jesus or knew people who knew him, and were part of a coherent and tight-knit community.

Very important to scholars, but less understood by lay people, is the question of genre. Folklore scholars like Bronislaw Malinowski emphasize that traditional people know the difference between myth and non-fiction account. The difference between genres was so strong that a tribesman could be punished for telling a folktale at the wrong time. The New Testament was not myth, was never meant to be myth, and only someone who knows nothing about traditional people and their worldview would assess the New Testament as myth.

Myths are meant to be symbolically true. The New Testament was meant to be reportage: this is what I saw. This is what reliable people saw. This is what was reported.

Why do historians, both religious ones and secular ones, agree that Jesus, the flesh-and-blood man, existed?

Several reasons.

One is texts.

Quick question – who is the best attested figure from the Ancient World? About whom do we have the most, and the most reliable, textual documentation?

Alexander the Great?

Cleopatra?

Julius Cesar?

No. Jesus.

Jesus – a Jewish peasant and laborer, a man who never traveled more than two hundred miles from his birthplace, who didn't publish anything, who never held public office, who had no significant wealth, who died a horrific slave's death – Jesus is the best attested figure from the Ancient World. We have better, and more reliable, textual documentation of Jesus' existence than we have of Alexander the Great's, or Julius Cesar's, or Cleopatra's.

Please do check this for yourself – do a Google search on attestation. It may well surprise you – how few documents we have attesting to some Ancient World figures, and how distant those documents are in time from the figures and events they cover. And then there is Jesus. Simply much better attested.

Another reason historians agree that Jesus existed: extra-Biblical mention. Jewish and Pagan authors mention Jesus.

Another very important reason historians agree that Jesus lived: behavior change. *Something* big happened in Ancient Israel around 33 A.D. A tiny group of impoverished nobodies overcame the Roman Empire.

Rabbi Shaye J. D. Cohen, the Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University, said,

"The triumph of Christianity is actually a very remarkable historical phenomenon. ... We begin with a small group from the backwaters of the Roman Empire and after two, three centuries go by, lo and behold that same group and its descendants have somehow taken over the Roman Empire and have become the official religion, in fact the only tolerated religion, of the Roman Empire by the end of the 4th century.

That is a truly remarkable development, and a monumental historical problem, trying to understand how this happened. Of course, pious Christians have no doubt about how or why it happened: 'This is the hand of God working in history.' And the Christians of antiquity already made this very point; the fact that Christianity triumphed is proof of its truth.

For historians, that answer, while maybe correct on one level, on another level it is not entirely satisfactory. We historians would like to find other explanations for the triumph of Christianity and indeed, ever since Gibbon wrote his famous history, historians have been trying to understand what it was exactly that pushed Christianity to the top. I can't fully answer that question myself."

Okay. So, the Pagans, New Agers, and Atheists who say that Jesus never existed are simply wrong. The consensus of qualified historians is that Jesus existed.

What about all those parallels with Mithra?

Some are made up. That's right. Just invented. Mithra wasn't born of a virgin, for example. He was born of a rock. Roman Mithra religion does not predate Christianity, it postdates it. If there are similarities to be found in Mithraism to Christianity, and if any copying took place, Roman Pagan followers of Mithraism copied from Christianity, not vice versa.

One source used to support the claim that Jesus was copied from Mithraism is the scholarship of Lord Raglan, a folklorist not much respected today. In fact, his theories have been made fun of by other folklorists. Folklorist Francis Lee Utley made fun of Lord Raglan in his article, "Lincoln Wasn't There, Or Lord Raglan's Hero" that uses Lord Raglan's theories to prove that Abraham Lincoln never existed. Dorothea Wender wrote an hysterically funny article, "The Myth of Washington," proving that George Washington never existed.

The Jesus=Mithra claim is not the only New Age or Pagan attempt out there to discredit the historical Jesus. There are many. They are all over the internet.

An example. I recently saw the poster, above, on facebook.

This poster takes words from Jesus and attributes them to an Egyptian god, maybe Horus  – the god with the falcon head – or Anubis – the god with the jackal's head.

This attribution of Jesus' words to a jackal or a falcon could not be more inaccurate.

Ancient Egyptian religion was utterly hierarchical. It existed for one purpose – to guarantee heaven to the pharaoh. Heaven was a highly materialistic place where the pharaoh would engage in the typical activities of a rich Egyptian: hunting, boating, wearing gold and precious gems and applying heavy eye make-up. Yes, pharaohs brought their eye makeup with them to heaven, or so they thought.

Too, the pharaoh's retinue was, in some cases, murdered upon his death, so that he could enjoy his wives, concubines, and personal slaves in heaven. He dies, they all die, immediately, and are buried with him. The tens of thousands of slaves who built the pyramids were not mummified, and were denied heaven. The pharaoh's pets were mummified, and were allowed into heaven.

Christianity had an utterly different message: In God there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free man. God so loved the world – every last person in the world – that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him should not die, but should have everlasting life. This message would have been anathema to a pharaoh. Celsus, an early Pagan critic, condemned Christianity as a religion of "women and slaves," that is, the most despised of society.

I wrote to Betsy M. Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, and asked her if there is any truth to the New Age claim that "The kingdom of God is within you" is written on a temple at Karnak, as some New Agers claim. She wrote back. No, it is not, she told me.

Again, a now discredited scholar is behind this falsehood. Gerald Massey was a nineteenth-century autodidact who insisted that Christianity was a copy of ancient Egyptian religion. Massey is not supported by Egyptian scholars. Massey came up with nine claims, rooting Christianity in ancient Egypt. Professional Egyptologists reject every one of Massey's claims.

Why put Jesus' words in the mouth of a jackal-headed God who never said them?

To discredit Christianity. By any means necessary.

It's funny that some New Agers claim that Christianity was copied from ancient Egyptian paganism, and others say it was copied from ancient Roman Pagan beliefs. Christianity couldn't have been copied from both!

I could say much more about the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy of the Jesus-equals-Mithra claim, or the Jesus=Horus claim, but I'll stop here.

And ask why.

Why do some Pagans, New Agers, and atheists make the already discredited claim that Jesus is a copy of Mithra?

I think it's because some want to reject what they think of as Jesus, but they don't know how. So they reject a made-up version of Jesus, like the Jesus=Mithra construct. Rather than attempt to deny Jesus' real truth, they make up a fake version of Jesus, and deny that.

As I record in "Save Send Delete," I'm a Christian not for one reason, but for many reasons. I traveled. I lived other faiths. I lived Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. I read. I studied.

Nothing I have ever experienced is at all comparable to the Jesus I encountered in the New Testament.

If you haven't yet read that document, I hope you will.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. The Inspired Scriptures tell us that the only way back to our Creator is through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as only he could pay back the perfect human life that Adam so wilfully threw away in Eden.

    As the Hebrew Scriptures tell us:
    "Not one of them (the children of Adam) can by any means redeem even a brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him... That he should still live forever [and] not see the pit." - Psalm 49:7-9

    We, the children of Adam, are born dying. We don't have a life to give, let alone a perfect one.

    The Inspired Scriptures also tell us that the ruler of the present system of things is "a manslayer", and he will do all he can to stop us seeing this.

    "Among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through."

    Satan, the ruler of the world, is using his system of things, the world, and its "wisdom", to stop us seeing the truth. And he will, as you say, try to discredit Christianity "by any means necessary".

    Once again I come back to the importance of the Christian preaching work. People urgently need to know what the Inspired Scriptures actually say.

    Re the "Atheists smarter than Christians" debate, I am happy to let the Inspired Scriptures decide:

    First the Hebrew Scriptures:

    "The senseless one has said in his heart:
    “There is no Jehovah.”" - Psalm 14:1

    And then the Christian Greek, when Paul says this about his commission to preach:

    “Christ dispatched me . . . to go declaring the good news, not with wisdom of speech, that the torture stake of the Christ should not be made useless. For the speech about the torture stake [Jesus’ ransom sacrifice] is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. For it is written: ‘I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and the intelligence of the intellectual men I will shove aside.’ Where is the wise man [such as the philosopher]? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not get to know God, God saw good through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing.”—1 Corinthians 1:17-21.

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