Recently, I had an atheist give me the charge that Jesus didn’t exist but was rather based on myths like Horus and Mithras. And I’ve seen friends share memes making the same claim on Facebook. So let’s look at the facts.
First, when one makes the appeal that Jesus is based on a myth, the most important thing is that they really need to check their sources. While this theory was popular in the 19th century, virtually no relevant scholar believes this anymore. Why? Because they sat down and compared the information.
For one thing, the information has to be viewed from a 1st Century Jewish point of view. Dr. William Lane Craig talks about this in his Question of the Week #90: Jesus and Pagan Mythology. As he says, the Jews were aware of the Greek and Egyptian gods, and “found them abhorrent. There is no trace of cults of dying and rising gods in first century Palestine.”
So the atheist that I was having a dialogue with claimed this:
“Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and kingship, was born of a virgin, baptized at the age of 30 and had 12 disciples. He was also crucified and resurrected similarly to Jesus thousands of years later”
Cold Case Detective J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, has written this about Horus, and to answer my atheist friend, Jim has already addressed each of these claims:
Horus was NOT conceived of a virgin. In fact, mural and textual evidence from Egypt indicates Isis (there is no evidence that “Meri” was ever part of her name) hovered over the erect penis (she created) of Osiris to conceive Horus. While she may have been a virgin before the conception, she utilized Osiris’ penis to conceive.
Horus was never baptized. While conspiracy theorists often point to “Anup the Baptizer” (claiming he was later beheaded), there is no such person in Horus’ story.
Horus had only four disciples (called ‘Heru-Shemsu’), but at some point in his story there is reference to sixteen followers and a group of unnumbered followers who join Horus in battle (called ‘mesnui’).
Horus is not reported to have died at all in the vast majority of Egyptian narratives. There is also no crucifixion story. Instead, Horus is usually described as eventually merging with Re (the Sun god) after which he “dies” and is “reborn” every day as the sun rises. There is a parallel account describing Horus’ death and detailing how he was cast in pieces into the water, later fished out by a crocodile at Isis’ request.
My atheist friend continued his charge:
“Mithras was a Roman cult god and also had a virgin birth, had a festival on December 25th, marked his followers on the forehead, was associated with the lion and the lamb, sacrificed himself and had a sacred day on Sunday.”
For the Mithras claim, Jim has written this about Mithras. To answer my atheist friend, Jim has already addressed each of these claims:
Mithras was actually born out of solid rock, leaving a hole in the side of a mountain (presumably described as a “cave”). He was not born of a virgin (unless you consider the rock mountain to have been a virgin).
Plus, the earliest version of this part of the Mithraic mythology emerges one hundred years after the appearance of the New Testament. This “infers it is far more likely this portion of Mithraism was borrowed from Christianity rather than the other way around.”
There is nothing in the Mithraic tradition indicating he ever even died, let alone resurrected. Tertullian did write about Mithraic believers re-enacting resurrection scenes, but he wrote about this occurring well after New Testament times. Christianity could not, therefore, have borrowed from Mithraic traditions, but the opposite could certainly be true.
Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries has also written about the Mithras claim. He quotes historian David Ulansey:
“Owing to the cult’s secrecy, we possess almost no literary evidence about the beliefs of Mithraism. The few texts that do refer to the cult come not from Mithraic devotees themselves, but rather from outsiders such as early Church fathers, who mentioned Mithraism in order to attack it, and Platonic philosophers, who attempted to find support in Mithraic symbolism for their own philosophical ideas.”
So clearly, the appeal to Jesus being based on myths fails.
In addition, using the philosophy that he proposed, one could also write away from history the sinking of the Titanic, President John F. Kennedy, and 9/11.
- For the sinking of the Titanic, a novel was written 14 years before about an unsinkable ship that sank in April by hitting an iceberg, and the name of the ship was the Titan.
- J. Warner Wallace points out in his article Jesus is a Myth, Just Like President Kennedy, that many of the details surround President JFK actually are also the same details about President Lincoln:
Prior to his election, he had been a boat captain. He was related to a U.S. Senator, Attorney General, ambassador to Great Britain, and the mayor of Boston.
He was elected to Congress in ’47 and was the vice-presidential runner-up in ’56.
He was elected President in ’60.
He was in his thirties when he was president; his wife was a socially prominent twenty-four year old girl at the time of their marriage. She spoke French fluently.
While living in the White House, his wife suffered the loss of a child. His family consisted of three children.
As president, he was deeply involved in civil rights for African Americans.
He was assassinated and shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while seated beside his wife (she was not injured).
On the day of his assassination, a staffer told him not to go to the event where he was murdered.
Following the assassination, there were insistent claims that the fatal shot must have come from a different direction.
His assassin was born in ’39, and was a southerner who held extremist views.
This assassin was murdered before he could be brought to trial; he was killed by a shooter who used a Colt revolver and fired only one, fatal shot.
After the assassination, he was eventually succeeded by a vice-president who was a southern democrat (and former senator) named Johnson.
- Michael Licona points this one out in many of his debates about how a plane crashed in New York’s tallest building, tearing an 18 by 20 foot hole around the 79th floor. Flames filled the building for several floors. You might think that this is talking about 9/11 but it was a B25 bomber in 1945.
Even atheist New Testament scholars speak out against the whole Jesus being based on myths idea.
Sean McDowell has compiled several quotes from New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, who is agnostic leaning towards atheism. This is what Bart says the following on the whole mythicism appeal:
It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the field of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology.
The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.
Despite the enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.
Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds — thousands? — of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.
Eric also quotes New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders:
That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know….Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions. Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it.
It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.
As well as atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Luderman:
After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.
Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.
As matter of fact, from the nonbiblical ancient authors, we can gather the core of the gospels from what they admit.