There is a common thread sewn into the heart of man to want to believe in a hero. Skeptics try to unravel that thread when it comes to belief in the hero of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, claiming it cannot be true because miracles simply don’t happen. It must be based on ancient pagan myth, they often surmise. But the idea that the resurrection event of Jesus Christ was based on pagan myths has been rejected by most critical scholars as unsubstantiated, even though it’s still postulated among popular skeptics today. Zeitgeist, for example, is a 2007 documentary that asserts there were previous messiahs with the same stories of birth, crucifixion and resurrection. Religulous, a similar movie hosted by Bill Maher, was comparable in its criticisms, maintaining that the Christian faith borrowed from myth stories. In addition, some books have been written alleging that Jesus’ resurrection story was adopted from these narratives. After careful examination of reliable sources, however, the resurrection story of Christ stands as a unique event in human history, and not a so-called “legend.”
Skeptics argue that the Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Persian cultures also have pagan god/man stories. In the movie Zeitgeist, the narrator introduces the audience to an idea that there were multiple “Solar Messiahs,” who was supposedly were born on December 25, walked on water, healed the sick and had twelve disciples, etc. The movie mentions numerous so-called “saviors” from different cultures with identical stories.
One of these is Mithra, a Persian god who was supposedly resurrected. However, there is nothing in ancient literature to support this claim. The Encyclopædia Britannica states that there is little notice of the Persian god in the Roman world until the beginning of the second-century when it gained renewed interest. After the acceptance of Christianity by the emperor Constantine in the early fourth-century, Mithraism rapidly declined. Yale University Professor, Günter Wagner states, “Mithras does not belong to the dying and rising gods, and no death and resurrection ritual has ever been associated with this cult. Moreover, on account of the lateness of its spread, there is no question of the Mithras cult influencing primitive Christianity.”
Yet the myth theory persists. Zeitgeist attributes these mythical stories to a strong belief in astrological signs, claiming that the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was an astrological literary hybrid from all religious myths before it. The writers of Zeitgeist leapt to conclude Jesus chose twelve disciples just like the signs of the Zodiac. This is pure speculation. In Scripture, the number twelve represents divine authority and appointment as well as governmental foundation, perfection, and completeness.
Even more bogus is any comparison made between these ancient pagan gods and the virgin birth of Jesus. Some believe that the miracle story of the virgin birth is a dominant theme repeated countless times in almost every religious system. Not so, according to Dr. William Lane Craig, of Reasonable Faith ministries. He says the alleged pagan parallels to this story concern tales of gods assuming bodily form and having sexual intercourse with women to sire half-god, half-men descendants, like Hercules. He states these stories are “exactly the opposite of the Gospel story of Mary’s conceiving Jesus apart from any sexual relations. The Gospel stories of Jesus’ virginal conception are, in fact, without parallel in the ancient Near East.”
These myth ideas espouse a popular cultural view that all religions are basically the same. (This opinion is promulgated in the internet age where conspiracy theories thrive.) But myths like these grossly ignore the use of expert opinion, except for a handful of fringe scholars who agree with their premises.
Read Part 2 in the next blog…