Is Jesus Simply a Retelling of the Mithras Mythology? Part 1
Please Convince Me.Com is the source for the majority of this material, with my thoughts thrown in. Jim has compiled a vast amount of resources for those who are looking for answers to the tough questions of Truth Seekers and Christianity is up to the task of answering those questions.
I first heard of Zeitieist, Mithras, long ago as well as many of the concepts you will read about a while back, but last week a student who is considering Christianity brought it back to my attention and I am glad that he did. It tells me that he is looking for the truth, that he is thinking critically, that should he decide to follow Christ completely, it won’t be as a casual observer, but as one who has examined the hard questions of the faith. It attempts to connect Christianity to astrological origins, which then presuposes therefore that Christianity “borrowed” its stories and beliefs from ancient sources such as Mithras, among others.
Here is the PleaseConvinceMe.Com Article Claisms One through Five.
Would This Bother You?
There are many atheists who claim that Jesus never really lived. What if I told you that there was once an ancient religion which described God as a being who:
Was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Was considered a great traveling teacher and master
Had 12 companions or disciples
Promised his followers immortality
Sacrificed himself for world peace
Was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again
Was celebrated each year at the time of His resurrection (later to become Easter)
Was called “the Good Shepherd”
Was identified with both the Lamb and the Lion
Was considered to be the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
Celebrated Sunday as His sacred day (also known as the “Lord’s Day,”)
Celebrated a Eucharist or “Lord’s Supper”
Would you recognize this religious figure? Sound like someone you know? Well, of course, we are describing the figure of Mithras!! What, did you think we were talking about Jesus? It sure sounds like Jesus doesn’t it? Would it shake your faith to discover that Mithraism was a popular religion in the Roman era, and actually competed with Christianity for the hearts and minds of believers? While Mithraism is no longer a viable religious belief system in our world, there are a number of atheists who are now assembling to argue that Christianity is simply a copycat of previously existing faith systems. Their argument is that Christianity is not true, and that Jesus never lived. He is simply a copied form of deity from a number of pre-existing mythologies!
Is He Really Like Jesus?
A first reading of these similarities is startling and for many Christians, these descriptions have caused them to stumble and doubt the true historicity of the man, Jesus Christ. So it’s important for us to examine the truth of these claims of similarity and to also see what the REAL mythologies can tell us about the heart of man that drives us to imagine what God might be like. There can be little doubt that there are a number of pre-Christian mythologies with dying saviors, but when we examine these figures closely, we’ll see that they only foreshadow the God who truly DID come to earth. These mythologies actually SUPPORT the claims of Christ. Before we begin to examine this mythology carefully, it’s important to recognize that a significant portion of what we just read about Mithras is simply FALSE, and lacks ANY archeological support whatsoever. Much of what is seen on this list is simply the effort of atheists to make Mithras look as much like Jesus as possible. So let’s take a look at the truth and see what it can tell us.
The Truth About Mithras
There are two distinct and non-continuous traditions related to Mithras, one coming out of the areas of India and Iran, and another more recently developed (in Roman times). Many experts have struggled to try to connect these as one continuous tradition, and in so doing, have distorted or misinterpreted the basic elements of the tradition and mythology. Much of what is known about Mithras comes from pictures and murals that have NO CAPTIONS, so the vast majority of scholarly work on this character is pure speculation. Let’s take a look at the claims we have already described and separate truth from fiction, and then try to understand the underlying hope of the people who invented the god called Mithras:
(1) Claim: Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Truth: Mithras was actually born out of solid rock, LEAVING a cave. He was NOT born of a virgin (unless you consider the rock mountain to have been a virgin). His birth WAS celebrated on December 25th, but the first Christians knew this was not the true date of Christ’s birth anyway, and both Mithras worshippers and the Roman Catholic Church borrowed this celebration from earlier winter solstice celebrations. Shepherds ARE part of the Mithras mythology, witnessing his birth and helping Mithras emerge from the rock, but interestingly, the shepherds exist in the birth chronology at a time when humans are not supposed to have been yet born. This, coupled with the fact that the earliest version of this part of the Mithras mythology appears one hundred years AFTER the appearance of the New Testament, points to the fact that it is far more likely that the Mithras legend borrowed from Christianity rather than the other way around.
The Reasoning Behind the Mithras Mythology: Clearly men dream and think about God, and when we do that, it is reasonable for us to imagine that God must be an incredibly strong being who would emerge in our world in a way that defies the natural order of things.
(2) Claim: Mithras was considered a great traveling teacher and master
Truth: There is nothing in the Mithras tradition that indicates he was a teacher on ANY kind, but he was could have been considered a master of sorts. But why would we expect ANY deity to be anything less than a great teacher and master? Most deities and mythologies describe their gods in this way.
The Reasoning Behind the Mithras Mythology: If there is a god, it is reasonable to expect Him to have infinite wisdom and be the master of our lives.
(3) Claim: Mithras had 12 companions or disciples
Truth: There is no evidence for any of this in the traditions of Iran or Rome. It is possible that the idea that Mithras had 12 disciples is simply because there exists a mural in which Mithras is surrounded by twelve signs and personages of the Zodiac (two of whom are the moon and the sun), and even this imagery is POST Christian, and cannot contribute to the imagery of Christianity (although it could certainly have borrowed from Christianity).
The Reasoning Behind the Mithras Mythology: It is reasonable to imagine that God, if he was to come to earth, would then gather to himself disciples that would continue to share the truth with others.
(4) Claim: Mithras promised his followers immortality
Truth: While there is little evidence for this, it is certainly reasonable to think that Mithras did offer immortality, although this is not uncommon for any God of mythology.
The Reasoning Behind the Mithras Mythology: All of us have a sense that there is more than this mortal life, and if there is a God, we would expect Him to exist outside and beyond this life. We would also expect him, if he loves us enough, to want to bring us to Him in his eternal life.
(5) Claim: Mithras performed miracles
Truth: Of course this is true, for what god does not perform miracles, whether true or false?
The Reasoning Behind the Mithras Mythology: It is reasonable to expect that if there is a God (a true God), He would have the power to perform the miraculous and control the forces of the natural environment.
COMING NEXT: Claims 6-10
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