A myth cannot explain away the resurrection event of Christ—it is unparalleled in history. This is not a belief rooted in pagan ideas of dying-rising gods, but a belief rooted in a Jewish apocalyptic worldview. Even for the Jews themselves, the idea of their messiah being killed and crucified by His enemies was completely out of their horizon. They were not expecting the coming messiah to be executed as a common criminal; that was a shame issue because their law said that anyone hanging on a tree was under God’s curse. Any hopes of Jesus being the messiah died that day on the cross, his disciples despaired. (One of the reasons Christ was crucified was because the Jewish religious leaders of the day thought he was being blasphemous, claiming to be God. That was a crime deemed punishable by death.)
First-century Jewish culture was an unlikely place for a myth of a crucified and resurrected god/man to arise. The Jews didn’t believe in resurrection before the end of the world. So to claim Jesus was resurrected in the middle of this narrative was considered impossible. This makes the eye witness testimony of the risen Christ even more believable, considering they were not expecting it. A Jew wouldn’t come up with the idea of rejecting an age-old belief that resurrection was to happen at the end of the world, on Judgment Day, when God resurrects the dead and judges them, in favor of resurrection happening to an isolated individual before the end.
Legends or myths typically evolve over a very long time, but Jesus’ story didn’t. His stories spread throughout the land within just a few years of the resurrection event.
In spite of this, skeptics continue to try to convince people that the resurrection was based on the myth of the god/man, and claim it “was a giant allegory, every element of which could be decoded to reveal profound spiritual truths that lead to the experience of gnosis,” stated authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. These writers perpetuate the theory of Christianity being borrowed from pagan myth stories in their books.
What Jesus did on the cross is distinctive. The New Testament resurrection story of the Son of God dying in place of His creatures is unique to Christianity. None of the so-called “savior-gods” died for someone else. Only Jesus died for sin, and it was once for all.Jesus’ death was an actual event in history. The early church believed that its proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection was grounded in actual historical events. “It’s absurd to make any attempt of deriving this belief from the mythical, non-historical stories of the pagan cults,” said Nash.
Unlike the mystery gods, Jesus died voluntarily. Nothing like this appears even implicitly in the pagan god stories. Their myths were dramas, or pictures, of what the initiate went through, not real historical events. The Christian affirmation that the death and resurrection of Christ happened to a historical person at a particular time and place has absolutely no counterpart in any pagan mystery religion. Any similarities to the Christ story and these mystery religions began circulating much later after the birth of the Christian Church in the first century, evolving to imitate similar events that happened in the years following. We have also seen that many of the supposed similarities between Christianity and these mystery religions are based on outdated scholarship that relies heavily on the assumption that these cults were a natural extension of the ancient pagans rather than an entirely new, late first-century system. Once examination of the evidence is done through credible scholarship, we can dismiss the claim that the resurrection of Jesus was borrowed from pagan myths.
It is striking that history is full of mythical and legendary heroes. So it’s understandable why skeptics could assume, based on these stories, that Jesus was just one among many. Notice, however, the desire of the human imagination to want to create stories like these, as if there is a knowing in every heart that there should be a hero.
Jesus is no myth. He is real, and the answer to humanity’s cry for a hero.Works Cited • Boyd, Gregory A. and Rhodes Eddy, Paul. Lord or Legend? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2007. • Craig, William Lane. “Jesus and Pagan Mythology.” Reasonable Faith, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-and-pagan-mythology [accessed April 29, 2014]. • Ehrman, Bart. ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ Patheos.com, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/06/11/bart-ehrman [accessed March 27, 2014]. • Freke, Timothy and Gandy, Peter. The Laughing Jesus. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2005. The Jesus Mysteries: was the original Jesus a pagan god? New York, NY: Harmony Books, 1999. • Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus: a new historiographical approach. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2010. • McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson,1999. • Nash, Ronald. “Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions?” Christian Research Institute.http://www.equip.org/articles/was-the-new-testament-influenced-by-pagan-religions/[accessed April 25, 2014]. • Smith, Jonathan Z. “Dying and Rising Gods,” Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd ed. Detroit, MI:Lindsay Jones, Macmillan, 2005. • Spong, John Shelby. Resurrection—Myth or Reality? New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers,1994. • Tacitus, Cornelius. The Annals of Imperial Rome, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. Skilwel, KS: Digireads.com Publishing, 2005. • The Bible Study Site. “Biblical Meaning of Numbers.” Barnabas Ministries. http://www.biblestudy.org/bibleref/meaning-of-numbers-in-bible/12.html [accessed April 26, 2014]. • Wagner, Gunter. Pauline Baptism and The Pagan Mysteries: The Problem of the Pauline Doctrine of Baptism in Romans VI. 1-11, in the Light of its Religio-Historical “Parallels,” translated from the German by J. P. Smith. Edinburgh, London: Oliver & Boyd, 1967. • Zeitgeist: the Movie Companion Source Guide, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License http://zeitgeistmovie.com/Zeitgeist,%20The%20Movie-%20Companion%20Guide%20 PDF.pdf [accessed April 26, 2014].