Religion was the most fertile ground for these conversations. All religions are filled with a wide spectrum of engagement. There are those who take their sacred texts, their foundations seriously. Those who don't. A massive middle of people who keep up a pretense but may lack any inner, substantive motivation. The religion is like a hulking skeleton of ideology that always hangs over, casting shadows, seeming to give form to the world. But it crumbles so quickly if touched. That is the approach I love to take in my World History classes, talk about what the infrastructure of belief actually entails. What it is comprised of. Many people may talk about the Bible, but how many actually read it? Or know what it says. When we follow those lines of inquiry we get unexpected things. We get complications aplenty. We get students who end up having to either shut off their brains or interrogate the very things they say they are without knowing what they are really committing to.
Take for example, Santa Claus. I have a lecture in my classes on the origins of Santa Claus and then ask the question as to whether or not Christians should use him in their celebrations of Christmas. The answers are very surprising as we go back in history and see the ways that Santa Claus has evolved in religious and secular means. How he is a prime example of the compromises and adaptations that religions make as they expand, something that people who are "true" to their faith should take note of. To look at Santa Claus means to look at Christianity as not a simple and whole truth, but as a continent of ideas that has borrowed and subdued the cultures and thoughts of others. Santa Claus can be a helpful way of illuminating how Christianity as a religion as evolved and taken form, but it doesn't help those who are seeking a way to not ask questions.
Below are a list of 5 deities that were conceived of before Jesus Christ was born, but bear amazing similarity to his story. I leave it to you, to imagine what these similarities mean in terms of the "truth" and "wholeness" of Christianity.
5-Near Identical Jesus Myths that Predate Jesus
By Lottie Richard on March 17, 2015
I studied history in college, and spent a lot of my time researching ancient civilizations and comparative religions. As an agnostic, I am fascinated by religion and the idea of faith and belief, across all religions spanning the entirety of human existence. Some of the most fascinating projects that I did in college involved comparing ancient mythology to modern religious beliefs, finding similarities and multiple parallels. For example, anyone who has ever read The Epic of Gilgamesh will know that many biblical stories are plucked straight from the story, including the flood myth and the virgin birth myth.
Historians and religious scholars know that religious texts are made up of a series of myths (that’s not to say they are not true, but just that they are mythical stories). These myths appear across different religions and eras, and the same stories repeat themselves over and over again throughout history. Today, I will present to you five near-identical “Jesus” myths that predate Jesus.
Please note that many of these stories have differing translations and interpretations, some of which tell different stories. The main idea of this list is to remind you that the story of Jesus is rooted in ancient myth.
Horus was one of the many Egyptian Gods. This is probably one of the best-known and contested deities that is often compared to Jesus. Some translations and Egyptian myths say that he had 12 disciples, and was born of a virgin in a cave. His birth was announced by a star, and was attended by three wise men. He was baptized at age thirty by Anup the Baptizer. Horus performed miracles, including rising at least one person from the dead and walking on water. He was crucified, buried in a tomb, and resurrected, just like Jesus.
2. Buddha (563 B.C.)
Buddha’s mother, Queen Maha Maya, had a dream that a white elephant with six tusks entered her right side, impregnating her. As was tradition in this time, the mother left her husband’s kingdom to give birth near her father. She did not make it the entire way, though, and gave birth while traveling. Buddha was born in a garden beneath a tree. In addition to this birth story, Buddha, like Jesus, also performed miracles, healed the sick, walked on water, fed 500 men from a single basket of cakes, was transfigured on a mount, and taught chastity, temperance, tolerance, compassion, love, and the equality of all. There are also some texts that say he was crucified, spent three days in hell, and was resurrected. That is not what killed him, though, as he died in his old age from what is believed to be food poisoning.
3. Mithra (2000 B.C.)Mithra was an ancient Zoroastrian deity, and along with Horus has some of the most striking similarities to Jesus. Yet another example of virginal birth, Mithra was born to the virgin Anahita on December 25th. He was swaddled and placed in a manger, where he was tended to by shepherds. Like Jesus and Horus, he had 12 companions (which can be interpreted as disciples). He also performed miracles, identified with both the lion and the lamb, sacrificed his life to save the world, was dead for three days before being resurrected, and was known as the messiah, the savior, and “the Way, the Truth and the Light.” His religion also had a Eucharistic-style “Lord’s supper.”
4. Krishna (around 3000 B.C.)Krishna, a Hindu God, was born after his mother was impregnated by a God. His birth was attended by angels, wise men, and shepherds, and he was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Like Jesus, when Krishna was born, a tyrant had ordered the slaughter of all newborns. In addition, he was baptized in a river, performed miracles, raised the dead, healed the deaf and blind, used parables to teach charity and love, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, and it is believe he will someday return to earth to battle the “Prince of Evil.”
5. Osiris (around 2500 B.C.)Osiris was the son of one of the many Egyptian Gods. Like Jesus, Osiris was portrayed as a bearded man, and his myth says that he was killed and the resurrected after three days in hell. Also like Jesus, Osiris performed miracles, had 12 disciples, and taught that people could be born again through baptism in water. In addition, Osiris had many titles, including “Lord of Lords,” “King of Kings,” and “Good Shepherd.”
There are many more religious figures who have multiple similarities to Jesus, including Odysseus, Romulus, Dionysus, Heracles, Glycon, and others. Mythical stories depicting the virginal births of the sons of Gods go back millennia, most likely predating the advent of writing. Ancient myths neither prove nor disprove the existence of the Christian deity Jesus, but they certainly bring about some interesting questions, and I’m not sure that any of these questions will ever be answered.