On Mythras, Myth, the Virgin Birth and December 25th

There is an interesting post on this topic over at "God is for Suckers." This is the conclusion:
So, the short version is – there is no evidence that Christianity borrowed from Mithraism, nor is there any vice versa. I am convinced that Theodosius I’s implementation and enforcement of the Nicene religion led to the destruction of a great many documents and monuments that would have given us substantial proofs one way or another, but alas I cannot prove it. As a talking point, it’s a fair illustration of not only how parallels occur (or are borrowed, or pinched, or whatnot), but also how incredibly sketchy historical veracity becomes when the Christians took over. Outside of that, it’s not the sort of factoid that will slap the reader into some sort of admission. Then again, as we all know, facts are for the pragmatist and the realist, not the religionist.


What think ye?


Joshua Jung said...

I've always thought that "parrallelomania" (as, I think, WLC or White coined it) was definitely one of the weakest points the skeptic had. Finding parallels doesn't do anything. If anything, the believer will just go "oh, hey, look! God was using a concept we could understand!" or "Satan was copying God in order to deceive true believers!" The real question is: which is it: Satan or God? The point should then be that if you can't tell the difference between Satan and God's actions you have a serious problem.


The point for me is not whether Christianity directly borrowed from parallel motifs or not.

The point for me is that the themes and motifs were known to be invented by humans.

Therefore, why would an all-knowing God use a motif that humans were known to invent and potentially suffer the reasonable accusation that it was just another human invention?

Quite simply, why would God cry wolf?

We teach our children not to cry wolf! Why would God do it?

Why would He be so cruel as to use a motif that was known, beyond any reasonable doubt, to be used in mythical motifs?

Why wouldn't God use an entirely new idea? I mean, wasn't that the point? Wasn't the gospel all supposed to be something so incredible that humans had never thought about it before?

Why would God use a human invention?

There's a similar argument about angels:

Why do angels in Scripture never have inventions that surpass those of the imagination of the men of the day (swords, scrolls, flaming chariots)?

Simple answer: they were also inventions of the imaginations of men.

Anyway, I know you don't normally respond to my posts, John... I am curious as to what you think of this argument.

John W. Loftus said...

Joshua if I understand you correctly yours is a good argument.

Joshua Jung said...

My argument, in short:

An intelligent God would not reveal Himself using motifs known until that point to be human invention. Why? Because by doing so He open His revelation to the intelligent interpretation that they are also human invention.

If, therefore, the motifs of the gospel story can be shown to be human invention before they supposedly were revealed from God, then it cannot be an intelligent God who brought about the gospel.

God, if He used humanly invented motifs in His gospel story, was crying wolf by allowing those motifs to exist as myth before His "true" revelation.

Why should we trust this God?

John, let me know if there is a way I can more succinctly communicate this argument.

Sarah Schoonmaker said...


I am not a Christian, but I think Christians would respond with the notion that God needed to use human invented motifs and interact within the cultural constraints in order to reveal "his truth" in a comprehensive manner. If God did not meet humanity through culture, relationship, and his physical presence, then it is likely that no one would understand or believe his gospel message. The motivation behind the gospel message was to appear through the most accessible means in order to reach people with this "good news." Too bad for God that most of his human creation still did not "get it," yet he knew this from the beginning. Sadly, a Christian recently told me that it doesn't matter what my opinion is of how God setup this world, which points to the absurd verse that asks, "who are you to talk back to God" verse. Such nonsense.

The most significant frustration I have with God (if he exists) is that He could settle this religious debacle in an instant, but doesn't. While I do not agree with Nietzsche on some things, I think his quote here is powerful, "a god who is infinitely perfect and who does not make sure his creatures understand his intention-could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of humankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made about the nature of truth?" -"Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality." Edited by Maudemarie Clark and Brian Leiter, translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge University Press. 1997.)

I think arranging stars in the sky that spell out bible verses and a message that everyone needs to believe in 'x' would be sufficient, but I think that's too much to ask, sadly.

Here are some points against the notion that the Gospels were heavily influenced by mystery religions. I received these from a Christian apologist and thought they would be of interest to others for discussion. I have already formulated a response to these by highlighting significant connections between Jesus and Attis of Phyrgia, Osiris, Krishna of India, Dionysus/Bacchus.

1. Composition fallacy: combine many different mystery religions—Roman, Egyptian, etc.—into one grand theology, which it did not have. Then show parallels.

2. Mysteries were just that: esoteric, kept secrets, unlike Christianity which was good news to all. Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 1:16; etc.
3. Adherents were mostly male and wealthy; Christianity was universal.

4. Much of what we know of the mystery religions is dated later than the NT. Much of mystery theology and symbolism dependent on Christianity, not vice versa.
5. No evidence of mystery religions existing in 1st century Palestine.
6. NT is decidedly Jewish in citations and worldview. Monotheism, not nature religion of vegetative cycles.
7. Christians made their mark by being different than other religions.
8. Literary scholars JB Phillip and CS Lewis claim that the Gospels do not read as myths, but history. NT scholar A.E. Harvey agrees.
9. Mysteries are tied to a cyclical view of nature; unlike monotheism.
10. Jesus resurrection is different in six (6) ways from mystery view. See Nash, God and the Greeks

Sources: Ronald Nash, God and the Greeks. Ed Komoszewski, James Sawyer, Dan Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Kegel, 2006) James Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior ? (Eerdmans, 2005).


Joshua Jung said...


The Apostle Paul's key point about spiritual language was that God's message was foolishness to the world.

That's at direct odds with the theory that God would use non-spiritual man-made motifs from their culture that they could understand.

Joshua Jung said...

Sarah, one more thing.

If God exists, he would not feel pain as we do and therefore there is no reason to insist that he would only be just if he were sympathetic to the human condition.

Perhaps our plight is necessary to achieve a means that we cannot comprehend.

Maybe he (it) is using earth as the starting point to evolve life that will one day consume the entire universe. At that point, life and the universe will be so incomprehensibly different than they are now that we cannot even speculate about His "intentions" without looking silly to Him.

Death and suffering are just (in both senses) means to His end. He is not malevolent, He is just apathetic because we have no use to him after death. He has no reason to care, because He has no reasons, because he is outside of a realm of cause and effect.

God just is.

That said, I'm an atheist but I hope you can see how silly the entire arguments about God are. All you have to do is keep applying your imagination to reality and inventing - over and over - possible solutions to problems created by the notion of a deity in the first place. Voila! Instant theology.

Dave said...

I have been thinking about the Virgin Birth lately, and I wonder if there's not a more plausible explanation why Luke invented it than the idea he was copying Pagan mythology. (Assuming it originated with Luke.)

In case-like fashion, Luke makes a point of demonstrating his main witnesses' impeccable Jewish credentials. If it was widely accepted that Mary was unmarried when Jesus was conceived, perhaps the Virgin Birth was an attempt to absolve her from the scandal, which would have damaged her credibility as a witness (in the Lukan sense of a key figure in his gospel) and portray her as a faithful, Torah-observant Jew.