The internet has granted us access to all manner of ideas, whether tenable or ridiculous. Among the more ridiculous examples are the theories regarding Christianity and mythologies. The general claim is that the modern Christian faith borrowed from one or more ancient myths in the first and second century. Christianity is one religion among many that essentially communicate the same truths and tell the same stories.

In regards to the person of Christ, some claim He is a fictional character. This suggestion is historically laughable. Bart Ehrman argues against the notion,[1] calling such theorists ‘mythicists,’ citing Paul’s close relationship with Christ’s brother and the unexpected theme of suffering in Christ’s life.[2] The Jesus Seminar (1980’s and 90’s) sought a subtler approach by gathering some 150 Christian thinkers (mostly laymen) to vote on which aspects of the New Testament Christ they believed were actually historical. Both the voting process and the scholarship were quickly called into question by figures such as N. T. Wright and D. A. Carson.[3]

The intention of the Jesus Seminar was much broader and yet more careful than that of the “mythicists” who deny Christ’s existence altogether. The Jesus Seminar not only considered the historicity of Christ, but the relationship between New Testament accounts and other ancient religious texts and traditions. More recently, the film series Zeitgeist (2007-2011) advocated connection between Christianity and certain mythologies. The first film references tales of Adonis, Osiris, and other ancient deities, claiming Christ is but a morphosis of these deities.

Dying-And-Reviving God Archetype

The heftiest thematic claim in regards to the relationship between Christianity and ancient mythologies is the Dying-And-Reviving God Archetype (DARGA).[4] I will reconstruct the argument. Throughout religious traditions, we find the theme of deity dying then rising again, typically to defeat enemies and bless the faithful. The tradition of this theme considerably pre-dates the first century A.D. In fact, as far back as we have record of religious traditions, we observe the archetype of a “dying-and-reviving God.” The crux of Christianity typifies this theme: the Jewish Messiah dies on a cross, rises three days later, puts His enemies to shame, and secures eternal life for His people. The Christian message is not unique.

Does this archetype account for the death and resurrection of Christ? If it does, then the New Testament accounts of Christ may amount to illustrative fan-fiction, a backwoods fish-story about an empathetic Jewish carpenter who helped relocate a guy’s shoulder. The first matter in considering the significance of this archetype is to read the stories themselves. The most common myths I have found, in regard to this theme, are those of Adonis, Attis, Dumuzi, Osiris, and Baal. Instead of taking skeptics at their word (skeptics who hate God and have high stakes in Christ not being Who He claimed to be), let’s examine the myths themselves.

Adonis, the Hellenistic god of vegetation, has two variant accounts. The first account claims he was locked in a chest as an infant by Aphrodite. Zeus frees Adonis but forces him to spend half the year in the upper-world, half in the under-world. The second account claims he was killed by a boar. Attis, depending on which account you read, was killed either by castration or being run through by Zeus’ boar. Later accounts of Attis (4th Century A.D.) describe his resurrection. The ancient Mesopotamian god Dumuzi replaces his wife Inanna in the underworld. Dumuzi is allowed to visit his wife at times to maintain her fertility. Osiris, an Egyptian god, was cut into fourteen pieces and scattered, then reassembled by his wife and her sister. Though revived, he was not whole and had to abide in the land of the dead. Baal, referenced many times in the Old Testament, may signify a number of Middle Eastern gods. A single source allows some to consider this divine figure as a type of DARGA. This ancient source explains Baal conceived a son with a heifer and clothed him, then descended into the underworld to fight another god. A large portion of this source is missing, leaving the narrative in question. When the story continues, Baal is presumed dead by the gods but “returns” later on. Scholars disagree over how the missing portion of this ancient source once read: did Baal die, feign his death by using his clothed son as a substitute, or suffer an injury which only seemed fatal?

Are stories such as these types of DARGA? Adonis does not die in the first account and does not rise from the dead in the second account. In all accounts of Attis, he is never resurrected. When Christianity became popular in the Roman empire and aristocratic Romans wanted an alternative, only then does a resurrection account of Attis appear.[5] Dumuzi was never resurrected, but rather bound to the underworld and granted visitations to the land of the living. After his death, Osiris never fully recovers and remains forever in the underworld. Baal’s account may present a resurrection, but it may also present a feigned death (his clothed son as bait) or a number of other possibilities. Claiming Baal resurrected in this single, incomplete account is conjecture. To associate revival concepts in some of these stories with the resurrection of Christ is ridiculous, since Christ’s resurrection was whole, complete, authoritative, and absolute.

To associate revival concepts in [mythology] with the resurrection of Christ is ridiculous, for Christ’s resurrection was whole, complete, authoritative, and absolute.

Other Mythological Comparisons

This archetype is one among many suggested funnels of ideology which sifted myths into the Christian faith. Jesus is also compared to Horus, an Egyptian god. Typically, Horus is presented as the child of a virgin mother named Meri and stepfather Seb (Joseph), who was born in a cave in an angel-announced, star-heralded, shepherd-attended event; who was baptized in a river at the age of 30; who raised someone from the dead; and who was crucified between two thieves.[6] One of the best disciplines we can have when presented with such a comparison is to access primary sources ourselves.

Horus, evidentially, was conceived in Isis (not a virgin) by Osiris and born in delta swamps. Egyptian religion has no concept of angels or baptism, so the birth and baptism narratives are false (the former on two accounts). He never raised anyone from the dead and was never crucified, the latter being an exaggeration of his real death from a scorpion sting. The story of Horus has to be stretched meaninglessly thin to see comparisons to Christ. Some draw parallels between statues of Isis and child Horus circulated in the Roman empire and images of Mary and Christ. Isis was not a virgin, Mary was not considered divine, and no positive evidence can be presented to this effect.

Mithraism, an ancient Roman cult, is another subject of comparison with Christianity. Little material exists by which we know ideological and religious details of this cult. This is likely due to the secrecy of its membership. One tradition explains the savior figure of Mithraism killing a bull and feeding its meat to his followers. This story supposedly inspired the Christian tradition of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper. The comparison here is nil and any further comparisons are conjecture.

The Larger Problem

The real story behind the mythological stories supposedly behind the Christian story, is 19th century unbelieving scholarship. Since then (over a century ago), support for mythological origins of Christianity has drastically fallen among scholars. The primary reason has been work on the Jewish reclamation of Jesus, begun in the early 20th century. All somersaulting attempts to link Christianity with such stories as explained above are exercises in futility, first because myth is not applicable to Jesus or the Gospels. The Jews were not living or thinking within the framework of mythology. When we study Christ, either in Scripture or history, we have to study Him in the context of second temple and first century A.D. Judaism, not in the context of mythology.

Second, the authors of the New Testament were faithful Jews. What motivations would they have had to alter their testimony in light of ancient Egyptian religion? Third, Christianity from the outset was extremely Jewish (indistinguishable for most of the first century), demonstrating how it fulfilled the Old Testament. For these three reasons, we must see Jesus through Jewish lenses and laugh away the mythological comparisons.

[1] Bart Ehrman is an agnostic who specializes in the field of textual criticism.

[2] NPR accessed December 11, 2019.

[3] For “Jesus Seminar” and “N.T. Wright,” see Jesus Seminar #1 and Jesus Seminar #2, accessed December 11, 2019. For “Jesus Seminar” and “D. A. Carson,” see Jesus Seminar #3, accessed December 13, 2019.

[4] An “archetype” is an original idea/theme/object which is represented in “types.” Similar terms include antitype, criterion, original, model. Merriam-Webster’s definition reads, “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies.” Cambridge Dictionary’s definition is similar, “the original model or a perfect example of something.” The concept of archetype is Platonic, considering the need for an absolute among particulars. Christian Reformed apologetics readily accepts this concept, citing the absolute cause and anchor of all things in the mind of God.

[5] First appears in De errore profanarum religionum by Julius Firmicus Maternus, 346 A.D.

[6] Dawkins Net, accessed December 11, 2019.

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