One of the most recurring claims on the Internet or television these days is the assertion that Christianity is a copycat religion from pagan myths. For instance they will say the virgin birth of Christ is copied from earlier Pagan myths. Now as one who always enjoyed reading ancient Greek myths and literature in school growing up, I have read a number of mythologies over the years and have never encountered anything resembling Jesus or Christianity. Any parallels into ancient mythologies are only what the reader projects onto them. Now there are countless stories to be sure of miraculous births in ancient pagan texts and religions, but there are NO virgin births – where a woman gives birth while still a virgin without having had sex of some kind. The closest are stories where gods (e.g. Zeus or Poseidon) take human form to sleep with a virgin priestess of a various pagan temple which then produces a demigod or demigoddess – but the birth is a result of sex. More commonly in such stories the gods would take the form of a woman’s lover or husband in order to trick them into sleeping with them. But there are no examples of virgin births in the various pagan religions of antiquity. Nor are there any parallels between Jesus and the Pagan myths.
To make the point I have selected a story commonly cited by the proponents of this theory for further examination – The Story of Mithras:
Mithras was a virgin born Son of God (born on December 25th) who became a traveling teacher with twelve disciples and later sacrificed himself for world peace and rose from the dead.
At first glance you might be taken back and say: Well that sounds a lot like Christianity to me. Now rather this characterization of the Mithras story is intended to mislead the public, or is simply being perpetuated out of ignorance, one can only speculate. But there is of course more to the story. So let us examine each claim:
Mithras was born of a virgin?
The actual story of the myth of Mithras birth is that the god Zeus struck a large rock (or boulder) with lighting, and the fully grown Mithras emerged carrying a dagger in one hand and a torch in the other. Does this sound anything like Jesus birth to you? I guess in the sense he was created without sex is why proponents of this theory claim he was virgin born. BUT COME ON! – Really?
Mithras was the Son of God?
Mithras is a son of Zeus. Zeus was the god of lighting and ruler of the gods at Mount Olympus in Greek mythology, he had many children i.e. gods & goddesses and demigods and demigoddesses. Zeus was also not eternal, but himself the product of the Titan Gods (Cronos and Rhea) that preceded the Olympus gods he ruled over. As is evident, the Greeks believed in many gods and goddesses. Judeo-Christians by contrast believe in only one supreme eternal God, and Jesus Christ is his unique and only begotten son – The True Son of God.
Mithras was born on December 25th?
Okay they may have gotten this one right. But so what? The gospels do not claim Jesus was born on December 25th, early Christians celebrated his birth on a variety of dates. The ancient Greco-Roman world would celebrate the birth of the New Year with festivals starting in late December, so too many religions would take the time to celebrate the birth of their gods or goddesses during this occasion. It was centuries later that Christians began to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th – mainly to claim a once pagan holiday for Christ.
Mithras was a traveling teacher with twelve disciples?
Mithras was a warrior with followers more like soldiers than disciples. He was not a teacher, and the number of his followers varies depending on which version of the story you read. In the Roman accounts he has two, in the Persian version of the story he has only one and in other accounts twenty. But he never has twelve.
Mithras sacrificed himself for world peace?
Mithras never dies nor is there any written account of him sacrificing himself for anything. He was a warrior god that performed a series of battles and is most famous for killing a menacing bull creature.
Mithras rose from the dead?
As stated previously, Mithras does NOT die – therefore there can be NO resurrection. The closest we get is accounts that after his victory over the bull he was transported by a chariot from the sun god to take his place among the gods of Olympus. An ascension, but NOT a resurrection.
Now after filling in the details point by point – Does this story still bear any resemblance to that of Jesus Christ birth, ministry, death and resurrection? The truth is that Mithraism was a late Roman religion that was popular among the soldiers and whose adherents were all male. The earliest source for the religion is 66 AD, and all the texts associated with it date to the early second century AD.
For anyone interested on learning more on Mithraism, one might want to check out “Persia and the Bible” by a well renown scholar Edwin M. Yamauchi. Yamauchi was born into a Japanese Buddhist family, and became a Christian during the 1950s.
But enough already, I have bloviated on this topic long enough. As I have hopefully demonstrated one should be leery of all these claims that Christianity stole their beliefs from pagan myths. A closer examination shows that is not the case – whether we are speaking of Mithras, Attis, Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Hercules, Perseus or any of the other pagan stories skeptics try and cite as an example – there are no parallels to Jesus in the ancient pagan myths except that which people want to project onto these stories.
Thank you for reading; I hope some may have found it insightful.