The Popular ‘It’s Just a Myth’ Claims:
It is a popular notion among anti-Christian polemicists and liars to state that the Gospel’s narratives about Jesus of Nazareth and the Christmas (Birth of Jesus) and Easter (Resurrection of Jesus) Holy Days are all of pagan origin; that they are not based upon real events, but, rather, are a myth themselves based upon much older myths and pagan celebrations. With the advent of the internet, there has emerged no shortage of websites that elevate this idiocy over reality. Below are three succinct renditions of the ‘It’s Just a Myth Claims.’
1. The Jesus Story isn’t Original claim usually goes like this:
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, resurrected, and ascended from the underworld.
Also, written in 1280 B.C., the ‘Book of the Dead’ describes a God, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.” Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected.
2. The Christmas Holiday isn’t Original claim usually goes something like this:
The origin of this festivity is presumed to be Mithraic and about 4000 years old. Mithra was the god of light in ancient Iran. The symbol of Mithra is Sun. The symbol of Mithra is Sun. Iranians have used this symbol in their flag for at least 2500 years. The period of 17th to 24th of December was the duration of this feast. The 21st of December, the solstice of winter, is still celebrated in Iran. The worship of Mithra spread throughout Asia to Europe, where he was called Deus Sol Invictus Mithras. Romans adopted this festivity to celebrate the god, Saturn, and the rebirth of the sun god during the winter solstice. The winter holiday became known as Saturnalia and began the week before December 25th. The festival was characterized by gift-giving, feasting, and singing, and the priests of Saturn called dendrophori, carried wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession.
Noting that days start becoming longer after the winter solstice, the ancients gave birth to the myth that the sun god rises from his death after three days. This belief in the death and resurrection of god was later incorporated into Christianity. Before the dominance of Christianity, the Romans celebrated this festivity from the 25th of December to the 6th of January.
3. The Easter Holiday isn’t Original claim usually goes something like this:
The name “Easter” originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE), a Catholic scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum (‘On the Reckoning of Time, ‘c. 725/730) that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.” Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.”
Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were: Aphrodite, named Cytherea (Lady of Cythera) and Cypris (Lady of Cyprus) after the two places which claimed her birth; Ashtoreth from ancient Israel; Astarte from ancient Greece; Demeter from Mycenae; Hathor from ancient Egypt; Ishtar from Assyria; Kali, from India; and Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.
Summary of the Errors in the ‘It’s Just a Myth Claims:
As we have seen with the two earlier Anti-Catholic Myths and Lies (Constantine Founded the Catholic Church and the Pope is the Antichrist), the origin of these mendacious stories are always grounded in someone’s wild imagination, which has no connection to historical facts. In the instant case, the idea that the historical Jesus and the celebrations connected to His Birth and Resurrection are just myths run into the problems of A. The veracity of Logic and History, B. Veracity of the Resurrection of Jesus, and C. Dismissing the Logic of God’s Providence. I’ll briefly make a case for these errors below.
A. The ‘It’s Just a Myth’ Claim Lacks Logical and Historical Veracity:
In regard to logical veracity, it is entirely illogical to attempt to prove something to be false by using a false proposition. According to the truth table of logical conjunction, if two propositions are false then the value, they produce will also be false (i.e. F + F = F). In this case, the claimants begin with a myth that is false and adds it to a second proposition that Jesus is based on a false myth (that He is false). Therefore, logically, the value of their claim must result in a false value. That is, the logical computation of their claim can’t produce a valid conclusion. In other words, a lie can’t prove a lie to be true.
Regarding history, did you notice the common thread in all the stories above? In their effort to prove Jesus of Nazareth to be a myth, these people utterly depend on myths themselves. Altogether it is a circular argument. These claimants are like the man who walks around with a sugar cube in his mouth and wonders why everything tastes sweet. The myths are myths because they cannot be proven and are often contradictory because they have been products of priests, philosophers, and kings for hundreds of years. The myths are altogether unreliable as historical evidence.
For example, the claimants of ‘It’s Just a Myth’ always point to the so-called ‘Book of the Dead’ as their source, but there was never a single official ‘Book of the Dead’. Instead, the title ‘Book of Dead’ comes from an Arabic label referring to a collection of ancient Egyptian spells found with mummies, which were believed to help the deceased on their journey to the afterlife. (cf. The Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, “Funerary Literature”). Some of these texts contain vignettes depicting the god Horus, but they don’t tell us much about him.
In the case of Horus, there are many variations of his story, each more prevalent at one time and place than the others throughout 5,000 years of ancient Egyptian history. Therefore, not only do the claimants have the problem of being able to prove that the authors of the Gospels colluded to create a play on Horus, but they also have to prove that the early Christians had access to all the variations of the Horus myth that laid beneath the sand that archaeologist didn’t start discovering until the 1800s. They also have to explain why and how the Gospel writers might have been able to cherry-pick aspects of the Horus myth from different epochs of Egyptian history.
Yet, most importantly, the ‘Jesus is Horus’ claimants have to explain why the life of Jesus isn’t anything like Horus.’ For example:
CLAIM: Like Jesus, Horus was Born of a Virgin named Meri in a Cave and had a stepfather named Seb. His birth was announced by an angel, heralded by a star and attended by shepherds.
TRUTH: Horus is God’s son. Isis, who was never called Meri, temporarily resurrected Osiris’ dismembered body and fashioned a golden phallus to impregnate herself. Horus was born in a swamp. Seb was the “earth god”; with no relation to Joseph. None of the variations of the Horus myths mentions anything about three wise men or a guiding star.
CLAIM: Like Jesus, Horus was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded. Horus also had 12 Disciples.
TRUTH: In ancient Egyptian mythology, there is no such person as Anup the Baptizer, and Horus never had disciples. Both of these lies were made up by some dude named Gerald Massey in the 19th century. The Egyptian tomb paintings and sculptures do support the idea that there was a belief in water purification or ritual washing during the coronation of Pharaohs. Still, it is always depicted as having been done by the gods.
- For a more exhaustive treatment of the disconnect between Jesus and Horus see: Horus Manure: Debunking the Jesus/Horus Connection, by John Sorensen
Regarding the date, we have ascribed to celebrate the Birth (Christ Mass/Sending) and Resurrection (Passover/Easter) of Jesus Christ being of pagan origin, there is a litany of issues:
- That the early Christians were persecuted because they wouldn’t participate in pagan practices and they rejected all things connected to the pagan gods, it does not then, therefore, follow that they would have incorporated or co-opted any pre-existing pagan holiday as their own.
- Then there is the documentation proving that as late as the third century, Catholic Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ on various days and months.
- In A.D. 194, Saint Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Therefore, from the birth of Christ to the death of Commodus are a total of one hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days. Some have calculated the year of our Lord’s birth and the day. They say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [May 20] . . . Others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20].”
- In A.D. 195, Saint Clement of Alexandria wrote, “The followers of Basilides hold the day of His baptism as a festival, spending the night before it in readings. And they say that [His baptism] was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, on the fifteenth day of the month of Tubi [i.e., January 6]. But,, some say it was on the eleventh of the same month.”
- In his Commentary on the book of Daniel (c. A.D. 204),, Saint Hippolytus of Rome writes, “For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam, five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.”
- The evidence demonstrates that the birth of Jesus held special significance to Christians long before we even hear about Roman emperor Aurelian’s inaugural feast of Sol Invictus for the first time in A.D. 274. To this, Pope Benedict XVI explained in his book Spirit of the Liturgy (p. 105-107):
“The claim used to be made that December 25 developed in opposition to the Mithras myth or as a Christian response to the cult of the unconquered sun promoted by Roman emperors in the third century in their efforts to establish a new imperial religion. However, these old theories can no longer be sustained. The decisive factor was the connection of creation and Cross, of creation and Christ’s conception.”
- While there is no evidence whatsoever that there was a Roman cult based on the ancient Persian sun god Mithra who pagan-hating Catholic Christians borrowed from, we do have evidence from Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology (A/D/ 148-155) that the cult of Mithra did mimic the Catholic Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist:
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”
- About fifty years later, in The Demurrer Against the Heretics, Tertullian also speaks of the cult of Mithra copying what Catholics do:
“But it will be asked, by whom is the sense of those passages interpreted so that they make for heresies? By the devil, of course, whose wiles pervert the truth and who, by the mystic rites of idols, imitates even the essential parts of the divine sacraments. He too baptizes some of his believers and faithful followers; he, too, promises the remission of sins by a washing. And if memory serves me, Mithra signs his soldiers there on the forehead. He celebrates also a sacrifice of bread, brings forth an image of the resurrection, and plaits a crown beneath a sword. What must we say to his limited his high priest to a single marriage? He too has his virgins, and he too his celibates.”
- The idea that the Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus is somehow connected to the feast of Eostre/Eastre, the Saxon/Northern Europe goddess of fertility, completely ignores the fact that the only place we read about such feast in Bede’s On the Reckoning of Time, c. 725/730. Outside of Bede there is no historical evidence to support this was ever true. Bede doesn’t mention anything about Eastre eggs or Eastre bunnies. Moreover, if Bede is reliable, by the time Christians got around to giving the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord the name of the month in which it occurs in the old Germanic calendar (Eastre), the pagan celebration would have been long dead.
- Also overlooked is the fact that in almost all other languages, the name given to the day to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach/Passover.
- All of the other myths like Ishtar that are supposed to be similar to Eastre; thus connected to the Christian celebration of the Passover, are troubled with the first issue of the calendar day having nothing whatsoever to do with the Passover, and the second issue of myths not being able to be proven or identical to Eastre even if it was related to the Christian Passover.
- To restate and conclude, according to the documented evidence over the mendacities, there is; (1) No evidence of any December 25th, celebration predating the Catholic-Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ (Christ Mass/Sending); (2) There is no evidence of Catholics borrowing anything from the cult of Mithra, but there is evidence of the cult of Mithra borrowing many things from Catholics; (3) It seems far more likely that the December 25th day was chosen because of its symbolism having come nine months after the when it was believed the world was created (March 25 – the Vernal Equinox – Lunar Date of Easter – Jewish Passover); and (4) Being that pagan festivals flooded the calendar of the Roman Empire, it doesn’t, therefore, follow that because the Catholic Christians chose a date so close to the date of the Winter solstice that they were attempting to mimic a pagan festival. Any day on the calendar would have been on or near the date of a pagan festival.
- For a more exhaustive treatment of the disconnect between Jesus and Horus see: Easter, Eostre, or Ishtar?, by John Sorensen
B. The ‘It’s Just a Myth’ Claim Lacks the Veracity of the Resurrection of Jesus:
As I have demonstrated thus far, you cannot prove that the myths are true because they lack eyewitness accounts, accuracy (too many versions), and reliability. In contrast, for the opposite reasons, we can prove that the resurrection of Jesus happened, and for that reason, we know that Jesus is not a myth. For example:
- We presently have 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today of the New Testament and over 19,000 more in Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages.
- The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure.
- That means there are more copies of the original New Testament manuscripts than any other ancient book that we assume is accurate, such as the writings of Aristotle, Sophocles, and Homer (Iliad).
- The New Testament mentions actual historical events, proper names, dates, cultural details, customs, opinions of that time, and verifiable places. The Gospels show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem before its destruction in A.D. 70. The New Testament does not mention events and places that are mythical or not real. Therefore, the New Testament is not wholly a historical document but contains actual history, which allows us to trust it as a document of historical facts.
- No reliable historical documents say that Jesus didn’t exist, but there are reliable non-Biblical text that says he did (e.g., Talmud and Josephus).
- There were qualified witnesses at Jesus’ death and resurrection, such as his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and the 500 (“most of whom are still living” – 1 Cor. 15:8), and Paul.
- The Gospel accounts of Jesus do not contain the quality and the character of a myth because:
- As literature, their style is radically and different from the overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated, arbitrary, unorganized, non-meaningful style of all the myths.
- The Gospel narratives develop Jesus and other prominent figures with as few words as possible. The Gospels have a very concise and economic development of characters. In contrast, the myths are always verbose in character development, to the point of being distracting.
- Again, the Gospels are a testimony of eyewitness accounts. We know this because none of the Gospels are identical, which proves there was no collusion. Clearly, these are stories that come a rich oral tradition. The author of Luke attests that his work comprises of firsthand investigation of the original eyewitness accounts that were handed “down to us” (Luke 1:1-3).
- Several generations must pass before a myth can be developed before exaggerations and fantasy can be added to actual historical events. In the case of Jesus, an oral tradition emerges immediately after his death and resurrection, and the first letters of Paul, which includes the kerygma, appeared only after two decades after Jesus’ crucifixion (e.g., 1st Thessalonians – ca. A.D. 50).
- Unlike the myths, the Gospels bespeak a Jesus (God) with human weakness and disciples who have faults. The idea that you could establish a new religion based on the humility and weakness of the Gospel characters is foolish.
- The lack of harmonization in the Gospels and their apparent discrepancies attest that they could not have been forged or a product of collusion. There was no attempt to harmonize them or scrub away their apparent contradictions.
- The Gospels do not contain anachronisms; the authors appear to have been first-century Jews who witnessed the event.
- The Gospels and the Letters all have audiences to which they were written, which points to a community of believers existing before the arrival of the Gospels and Letters.
- Historically, we see a clear and dramatic shift of behavior after the Resurrection of Jesus, a Church community is established through the Apostles, and ethnic Jews begin to worship on the first day of the week (the eighth day) and claim they are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus, the Jewish religious establishment begins to promote a lie that Jesus body was stolen from the tomb. There are eyewitness accounts of a resurrected Jesus and followers of Jesus who began to be persecuted which would last for hundreds of years. All but one of the Apostles of Jesus are martyred. Clearly, something happened that was much more than just a myth.
- Being that none of all the alternative options to Jesus’ Resurrection (e.g., the Apostles hallucinated Jesus’ resurrected; the Apostles created a myth; the Apostles started a conspiracy to deceive people) can withstand the evidence above, it must therefore find (without creating a false dilemma) that Jesus is not a myth, that He is who He said he was, and that He rose from the dead, according to eyewitness accounts.
- For a more exhaustive treatment of the proof of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection, see: Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ, by Peter Kreeft
C. Dismissing the Logic of God’s Providence:
Faith is the highest form of human knowledge because it allows for the reception of reasonable knowledge that cannot always be known by the senses. Some might suggest that those who believe in myths have great faith because they believe in things that can never be verified and are completely unreasonable. On the contrary, that is not faith! That is foolishness! Only Christians have faith because only Christians believe in the Logos – a God of divine reason, who reveals Himself most fully to His creation in a logical manner by which our limited human reason can comprehend.
It never occurs to the mind of the disbeliever that a God who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent and who deeply desires to have a relationship (true communion) with His creation would inspire them to find Him. What type of God would not court the objects of His love towards Him? Therefore, would we be surprised if we looked back throughout human history and discovered that God had dropped crumbs and provided paths and light for us to find Him no matter where we were?
What if the Egyptians worshipped the Sun god Ra by eating him in a piece of bread in the shape of the Sun? Did that not prepare the Egyptians for their conversion to Catholicism? What if the Africans worshipped their deceased ancestors? Did that not prepare them to ask the Communion of Saints for their prayers? What if Aztecs worshipped an earth goddess named Tonatzin? Did that not prepare them to receive Our Lady of Guadalupe, who pointed the Mexican Indians to Jesus?
God is providential. The same God who inspired the prophets to sing of the coming Messiah is the very same God who gave us the gift of human reason by which we could just gaze at the universe and know that there is a God. This God can’t help but reveal Himself to us because that is who He is. His nature is love, and the first thing love does is reveal itself to its object of love. The second thing love does is eternally cling to its object of love. Love doesn’t die, and anyone who thinks God would do anything else than conform the human imagination to Himself is foolish. We can no more write a love song that doesn’t speak about God than we can paint a picture that doesn’t bespeak God’s glory.
Indeed, man has come up with many fantastic myths to answer the primordial questions of ‘Who am I?’, ‘How did I get here?’ and ‘What is my purpose?’. In these myths, there has been some truth, and in what is true in those myths, the one True God has resolved in His Son Jesus Christ.
* Jurgen, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. Volume One. The Liturgical Press. Collegeville, Minnesota. 1970