Part 4 of 9: Is Christianity Borrowed From Pagan Myths/Religions?

Posted By Thomas Perez. June 15, 2010 at 10:28pm. Copyright 2010.

These alleged “identicalities” generally attempt to identify Jesus with deities within a couple of categories (which some overlap).

First there are the “Dying and Rising Gods” (e.g. Adonis, Baal (and Hadad), Marduk, Osiris, Tammuz/Dumuzi, Melquart, Eshmun), popularized in James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough [WR:GB]
Secondly are the figures in the Mystery Religions (e.g. Mithra, Dionysos, Hellenistic period Isis/Osirus). Third, there are the more “major players” (e.g. Buddha, Krishna). Finally are the figures that are allegedly linked by broader motifs such as ‘miracle worker’, ‘savior’ or ‘virgin born’-heroes and divine men-without an explicit death/resurrection notion (e.g. Indra, Thor, Horus?)

Let’s look at these in turn…

The Dying and Rising Gods

This is an older category, originally brilliantly championed by Frazer in The Golden Bough, that has been abandoned by scholars in that field: “The Frazerian construct of a general ‘Oriental’ vegetation god who periodically dies and rises from the dead has been discredited by more recent scholarship. There is no evidence for a resurrection of Attis; even Osiris remains with the dead; and if Persephone returns to the world every year, a joyous event for gods and men, the initiates do not follow her. There is a dimension of death in all of the mystery initiations, but the concept of rebirth or resurrection of either gods or mystai is anything but explicit.” [HI:AMC:75]

“Despite its faults, Sir J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough remains a pioneering monument in the field. It is full of comparative data on kingship and ritual, but its value is lessened by Frazer’s ritualist interpretation of myth and by his eagerness to establish dubious analogies between myths of primitive tribes and classical myths.” [HI:CMY6:2-3] “Like writers on myth during the Enlightenment, Frazer ignored the possibility that change might not always bring improvement. Frazer himself did no field work. He integrated into his master scheme a vast body of data, often carelessly gathered, and manipulated it to fit his theory.” [HI:CM3:645]

“The Golden Bough is an extensive study of ancient cults and folklore and comprises a vast amount of anthropological research. While remarkable as a collection of data, the work’s conclusions are now often considered somewhat dubious.” [SDFML,s.v. “Frazer, Sir James George”]

By the way, this is not a problem with us somehow only having “slight amounts of data”-we have TONS and TONS of information today about this issue. But it is this abundance of data about these ancient figures that leads us away from Frazer & Co’s mis-interpretation of that data. Unfortunately, too much popular ‘skeptical’ literature on the subject still uses this category and concept as ‘credible’, but the scholarly worlds–both Christian-oriented and non-Christian in orientation-has essentially ‘moved away’ from this…[BTW, this is not a matter of the work just not being cited today because it is already ‘established'(!), as the quotes above specifically demonstrate. It has been “discredited” not ‘accepted as being indisputable fact’.]

I want to give an extended quote here from The Encyclopedia of Religion [Macmillian: 1987; article is by Jonathan Z. Smith, Professor at University of Chicago, and general editor of the HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion]. The entry under “Dying and Rising Gods” starts this way (emphasis mine):

“The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts. “Definition. As applied in the scholarly literature, ‘dying and rising gods’ is a generic appellation for a group of male deities found in agrarian Mediterranean societies who serve as the focus of myths and rituals that allegedly narrate and annually represent their death and resurrection.

“Beyond this sufficient criterion, dying and rising deities were often held by scholars to have a number of cultic associations, sometimes thought to form a “pattern.” They were young male figures of fertility; the drama of their lives was often associated with mother or virgin goddesses; in some areas, they were related to the institution of sacred kingship, often expressed through rituals of sacred marriage; there were dramatic reenactments of their life, death, and putative resurrection, often accompanied by a ritual identification of either the society or given individuals with their fate.

“The category of dying and rising gods, as well as the pattern of its mythic and ritual associations, received its earliest full formulation in the influential work of James G. Frazer The Golden Bough, especially in its two central volumes, The Dying God and Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Frazer offered two interpretations, one euhemerist, the other naturist. In the former, which focused on the figure of the dying god, it was held that a (sacred) king would be slain when his fertility waned. This practice, it was suggested, would be later mythologized, giving rise to a dying god. The naturist explanation, which covered the full cycle of dying and rising, held the deities to be personifications of the seasonal cycle of vegetation. The two interpretations were linked by the notion that death followed upon a loss of fertility, with a period of sterility being followed by one of rejuvenation, either in the transfer of the kingship to a successor or by the rebirth or resurrection of the deity.

“There are empirical problems with the euhemerist theory. The evidence for sacral regicide is limited and ambiguous; where it appears to occur, there are no instances of a dying god figure. The naturist explanation is flawed at the level of theory. Modern scholarship has largely rejected, for good reasons, an interpretation of deities as projections of natural phenomena.

“Nevertheless, the figure of the dying and rising deity has continued to be employed, largely as a preoccupation of biblical scholarship, among those working on ancient Near Eastern sacred kingship in relation to the Hebrew Bible and among those concerned with the Hellenistic mystery cults in relation to the New Testament.

“Broader Categories. Despite the shock this fact may deal to modern Western religious sensibilities, it is a commonplace within the history of religions that immortality is not a prime characteristic of divinity: gods die. Nor is the concomitant of omnipresence a widespread requisite: gods disappear. The putative category of dying and rising deities thus takes its place within the larger category of dying gods and the even larger category of disappearing deities. Some of these divine figures simply disappear; some disappear only to return again in the near or distant future; some disappear and reappear with monotonous frequency. All the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of dying and rising deities can be subsumed under the two larger classes of disappearing deities or dying deities. In the first case, the deities return but have not died; in the second case, the gods die but do not return. There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.”

Now, we can summarize this quote thus: There is simply “NO unambiguous data” to support the belief in the existence of ANY dyin’-n-risin’ deity apart from Jesus Christ; There is (therefore) data CONTRARY to the belief that this was a COMMON figure before the time of Christ (to say the least); And therefore, there would not be ANY motif/images FROM WHICH the NT authors could even borrow the image of a dying and rising God. (And also that any biblical and ANE scholarship that still uses this image in trying to understand ANE sacral kingship and NT Mystery Religions is simply unaware of the fact that the comparative data has moved out from under them)

Now, from a practical standpoint, we SHOULD BE able to end the matter here. Since most of the alleged pre-Christian “Christs” are held up as dying-and-rising deities, this SINGLE criticism of modern scholarship ALONE would destroy the ‘material borrowing’ or CopyCat hypothesis totally. But let’s go a bit further…let’s look at some of the specific deities offered as pagan christs, and see how scholarship views these ‘almost identical’ claims (pages cited are from the Eliade work, cited above, “Dying and Rising Gods”, by J. Smith, unless otherwise noted): Adonis(p.522). “There is no suggestion of Adonis rising (in either the Panyasisian form or the Ovidian form of the myth)”…

The two versions of this myth are:

(Aphrodite sees the dead body of Adonis, killed by a boar while hunting) “she rushed down…she complained against the Fates, crying: ‘But still everything will not be subject to your decrees; a memorial of my grief for you, Adonis, will abide forever. The scene of your death will be recreated annually with the ritual of my grief performed. But your blood will be transformed into a flower. O Persephone, you were allowed at one time to change the limbs of the maiden Mentha into the fragrant mint-will I be begrudged then the transformation of my hero, the son of Cinyars?’…With these words she sprinkled fragrant nectar on his blood which, at the touch of the drops, began to swell just like a gleaming bubble in the rain. In no longer than an hour’s time a flower sprang from the blood, red as the thick skin of the fruit of the pomegranate that hides the seeds within. Yet the flower is of brief enjoyment for the winds (which give it its name, anemone) blow upon it; with difficulty it clings to life and falls under the blast and buffeting.” [Ovid’s version, cited at HI:CMY120f; note that this might be considered some kind of survival ‘inside’ death? but certainly not a resurrection in any real sense. The scene of death is recreated annually, but the death is a once-for-all event in the myth.]

“When Adonis was an infant, Aphrodite put Adonis in a chest and gave it to Persephone to keep. Persephone looked inside; and once she saw the beauty of the boy, she refused to give him back. Zeus settled the quarrel that ensued by deciding that Adonis would stay with Persephone below one part of the year and with Aphrodite in the upper world for the other part.” [HI:CMY6:122; note that this ‘movement’ from the underworld to the upperworld is done BEFORE Adonis dies (when he is still an infant)…it is easy to see why Smith sees no reference to resurrection in this: “This tradition of bilocation has no suggestion of death and rebirth.”.]

“By every indication, however, the Adonis of the Athenians could not have been a god of vegetation but the very opposite…The gardens of Adonis, where new growth withered, were conceived by the Greeks themselves as the negation of the cultivation of grain and the order of Demeter…The Athenian Adonis, adopted by women and celebrated in the home, suggests a crisis in the city marked by the intrusion of private values, rather than a cosmic drama occasioned by the death of a god who is supposed to be the symbol of the agricultural cycle.” [WR:MYB:1:434f] “The frequently cited ‘gardens of Adonis’ (kepoi) were proverbial illustrations of the brief, transitory nature of life and contain no hint of rebirth. The point is that the young plant shoots rapidly whiter and die, and not that the seeds have been ‘reborn’ when they sprout” (Smith)

Baal/Hadad/Adad (p. 522f).

In discussing the fragmentary evidence we have about these, Smith points out that “As it stands, the text appears to be one of a descent to the underworld and return–a pattern not necessarily equivalent to dying and rising. Baal is ‘as if he is dead’; he then appears alive.” (p523) [One might also note that in the Baal-Mot interchange, Baal actually agrees to ‘be Mot’s slave’-not the same as being ‘consumed by Mot’. Mot ‘consumes him’, of course, but perhaps Baal maintained his essential life order to ‘serve Mot’. This would make sense of the ‘slave’ image, and also explain why he ‘descends’ to the underworld with his entire ‘staff’ of weather servants.] “This is a disappearing-reappearing narrative [note: Hadad hides in a bog for seven years]. There is no suggestion of death and resurrection…Nor is there any suggestion of an annual cycle of death and rebirth…The question whether Aliyan Baal is a dying and rising deity must remain sub judice.” (p.523)

“It should be noted that the identification of Baal as an annually dying and rising god with the Babylonian Tammuz has lately suffered. New Sumerian tablets published by S. Kramer show that Tammuz died once for all and C. H. Gordon has argued that Baal too had no annual death and resurrection. See the whole discussion with refs. in E. M. Yamauchi, “Tammuz and the Bible” JBL 84:283–90. r.l.h.]” [TWOT,s.v. ‘baal’]

“There has been considerable discussion whether the Baal cycle and, in particular, the Baal-Mot cycle reflects the seasonal cycle of an ordinary agricultural year or a 7-year (sabbatical) cycle. The chief proponent of a cyclic seasonal interpretation of the whole of the Baal epic is J. C. de Moor (1971), who compares the allusions in the various sections with current climactic conditions known from Syria today. However, there are a number of objections to the details of de Moor’s thesis, as for example his reordering of the tablets so that the first 3 are to be read in the sequence 3, 1, 2. Thus, tablet 3 is related to the autumn, tablets 1 and 2 to the winter, tablets 4 and 5 to the spring, and tablet 6 to the summer. However, de Moor’s reordering creates a problem in connection with the building of Baal’s house, which de Moor has to suppose was begun, then abandoned, and only later completed.” [ABD,”Baal”; note the issue of the ‘fragmentary evidence’-there is a huge problem in how to sequence the events in the tablets and pieces of tablets we have.]

After Baal wins his palace, he is challenged by Mot, the god of death, who kills him. On another occasion Baal killed Mot for seven years. Since Mot remains dead for seven years, this cannot be seasonal conflict” [Cyrus Gordon, in BANE:93]

(The relevant texts on Aliyan Baal are collected and translated in Cyrus H. Gordon’s Ugaritic Literature (Rome, 1949) and Godfrey R. Driver’s Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh, 1956), both of which reject the dying and rising pattern.)

Baal is supposed to be one of the best examples of a dying and rising god-that the data is ambiguous at best is not a good sign for the Copy Cat thesis…

Attis (p. 523).

“The complex mythology of Attis is largely irrelevant to the question of dying and rising deities. In the old, Phrygian versions, Attis is killed by being castrated, either by himself or by another; in the old Lydian version, he is killed by a boar. In neither case is there any question of his returning to life…Neither myth nor ritual offer any warrant for classifying Attis as a dying and rising deity.”
“All of the attempts in the scholarly literature to identify Attis as a dying and rising deity depend not on the mythology but rather on the ritual, in particular a questionable interpretation of the five-day festival of Cybele on 22-27 March. The question of the relationship between the Day of Blood (24 March) and the Day of Joy (25 March) caught the attention of some scholars, who, employing the analogy of the relationship of Good Friday to Easter Sunday, reasoned that if among other activities on the Day of Blood there was mourning for Attis, then the object of the ‘joy’ on the following day must be Attis’s resurrection. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this was the case. The Day of Joy is a late addition to what was once a three-day ritual in which the Day of Blood was followed by a purificatory ritual and the return of the statue of the goddess to the temple. Within the cult, the new feast of the Day of Joy celebrates Cybele. The sole text that connects the Day of Joy with Attis is a fifth-century biography of Isidore the Dialectician by the Neoplatonic philosopher Damascius, who reports that Isidore once had a dream in which he was Attis and the Day of Joy was celebrated in his honor!” [p.523] There are several accounts of Attis’ death (and relationship to Cybele):

“Attis was born in Phrygia of human parents, normal except for the fact that he was unable to beget children. As an adult, he moved to Lydia and established the rites of the Mother there. These rites attracted an enormous following, more so than the cult of Zeus, with the result that Zeus was jealous and sent a boar to kill Attis. In view of the manner of his death, the Galatian residents of Pessinous refused to eat pork.” [ascribed to Hermesianax, in Pausanias 7.17.9, from HI:ISGM:240, no mention of resurrection, etc.]

“A more grisly variant on this narrative can be found in Servius’ Commentary on Aeneid 9.115. In Servius’ story, too, Attis becomes conspicuous for his devotions to the Magna Mater, but in this account Attis’s undoing is his physical beauty, which attracts the attention of the king of his (unnamed) city. To escape the advances of this king, Attis flees from the city to the forest, but the king pursues him and rapes him. Attis retaliates by castrating the king, who then castrates Attis in turn. Attis is found by the attendants of the Mother’s temple lying under a pine tree, dying of his wounds. They try unsuccessfully to save him, and after his death, they institute an annual period of mourning in his honor, during which the goddess’s attendants, here called archigalli, castrate themselves in memory of Attis.” [HI:ISGM:240n11; no mention of resurrection-only perpetual death]

“Diodorus preserves a rather simple tale in which the human Cybele, cast out by her parents, falls in love with the handsome young shepherd Attis. She becomes pregnant by him but then is recognized by her parents and taken in again. When they learn of her pregnancy, they cause Attis to be killed, whereupon Cybele goes mad with grief and wanders through the countryside. Eventually, after a famine, she is recognized as a goddess and Attis is worshipped with her. Because his body had long since disappeared, an image of him served as the focal point of his cult” [HI:ISGM:241]
“Attis rages round like a wild maenad, until he falls down exhausted, under a pine-tree and in an access of insanity emasculates himself. Only when he sees Attis dying of his mutilation does Agdistis regret his behavior, beseeching Zeus to raise Attis from the dead and resuscitate him. The god does not refuse Agdistis’ request completely, and allows Attis’ body to remain uncorrupted, his hair to grow on and his ‘little finger’ to stay alive and move continuously (digitorum ut minimissimus vivat).” [from Ovid, Pausanias, Arnobious, XCA:91]

Notice that none of these accounts have even a semi-resurrection or semi-rebirth aspect in them…

Marduk (p. 523-4). “There is no hint of Marduk’s death in the triumphant account of his cosmic kingship in Enuma elish…The so-called Death and Resurrection of Bel-Marduk is most likely an Assyrian political parody of some now unrecoverable Babylonian ritual…it is doubtful that Marduk was understood as a dying and rising deity…There is no evidence that the Babylonian Marduk was ever understood to be a dying and rising deity…” [Smith]

“This interpretation of the so-called enthronement Psalms unfortunately has continued for quite some time, notwithstanding the fact that Assyriologists doubt whether the resurrection of Marduk was in fact part of the cult. It has been shown by W. von Soden (130-66) and P. Welten (297-310) that texts KAR 143 and 219 could not be understood as part of the main festival, and therefore could not be held as proof of the glorious reappearance of Marduk.” [NIDOTTE,s.v. Melek; note: the Enuma Elish certainly does not describe a death for victorious Marduk, but some have argued that the New Year’s festival of apiku did relate some such story. This is what the KAR 143/210 documents are referring to.]]

“According to an earlier hypothesis (Zimmern 1918: 2–20; Pallis 1926: 221–43), the New Year festival’s cultic drama included another episode, in which Marduk, prior to his battle with Tiamat, was put to death, taken down to the netherworld, and resurrected, in imitation of the cult of the dying god Dumuzi—Tammuz. However, the NA cultic commentary, on which this hypothesis is based, turned out to be nothing but an anti-Babylonian or pro-Babylonian propaganda. The purpose of this text was either to justify Sennacherib’s destruction of Babylon and capture of Marduk’s statue, in terms of a divine trial (von Soden 1955:51: 130–166), or to explain Marduk’s exile and his return to his city, in terms of death, descent to the netherworld, and resurrection (Frymer-Kensky 1983: 131–44). In any case, this vestigial and late addition to the New Year’s Day ritual has nothing to do with the motif of the dying fertility god.” [ABD,”akitu”]

Osiris (p.524-525).
As Smith points out, the Osiris story is surprisingly consistent over its long history.

“Osiris was murdered and his body dismembered and scattered. The pieces of his body were recovered and rejoined, and the god was rejuvenated. However, he did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have ‘risen’ in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern (as described by Frazer; most certainly it was never considered as an annual event.” “In no sense can the dramatic myth of his death and reanimation be harmonized to the pattern of dying and rising gods (as described by Frazer”

“The repeated formula ‘Rise up, you have not died,’ whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead.”

Frankfort concurs: “Osiris, in fact, was not a ‘dying’ god at all but a ‘dead’ god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead, as Tammuz was. On the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king.” [Kingship and the gods: a study of ancient Near Eastern religion as the integration of society & nature. UChicago:1978 edition, p.289]

In other words, Osiris is a dead/dying deity, but not a rising/resurrected one…

Tammuz/Dumuzi (p. 525f). The death of Tammuz is fairly widely attested-his rebirth is not.

“The ritual evidence is unambiguously negative…In all of these varied reports, the character of the ritual is the same. It is a relentlessly funereal cult…There is no evidence for any cultic celebration of a rebirth of Tammuz apart from late Christian texts where he is identified with Adonis…Even more detrimental to the dying and rising hypothesis, the actions performed on Tammuz in these three strophes are elements from the funeral ritual….” (Smith, 525)

“Early in the 20th century Tammuz was taken to be the classic example of the “dying-and-rising” god. Based on the work of Frazer (1935: 6), this position saw Tammuz as the divine representation of the life cycle of crops and therefore a vegetation deity (Langdon 1914: 114). It was held that the god died with the plants and rose again when they reappeared the next season; the cult, it was maintained, spread from Mesopotamia throughout the ancient world and was found with assorted names given for the Tammuz deity from Egypt (Osiris) through Palestine (Eshmun) into Greece (Adonis). Even the Christian Christ story was related to the myth (Frazer 1935: 6; Langdon 1914: 1; Moortgat 1949: 142–43; Kramer 1969: 133, 160 n. 48; Burkert 1979: 105–11). With the recognition that Tammuz was a shepherd, the death and rising of the god became less obvious (Falkenstein 1954: 65; Kramer 1951: 1–17). A fragmentary end of a myth has been suggested as evidence for Tammuz’ return from the dead (Falkenstein 1965: 281; Kramer 1966: 31), but this material is open to more than one interpretation…Most of the material which has been preserved concerning the god relates him to the cult of Inanna/Ishtar. The courtship and marriage of these two deities have been recorded in numerous poems for her cult and have been taken at times to be examples of fertility rite liturgies. It is the myth of Inanna’s Descent which supplies the best known rendition of the death of the god; she sends her husband to her sister Ereshkigal since someone must take her place among the dead. It would seem to be this story which is alluded to in the Gilgamesh Epic (VI: 46–47). Here Inanna/Ishtar assigns annual weeping in the cult for Tammuz, while the context suggests duplicity on her part toward him; this is no doubt what the women are observing at the Jerusalem temple when Ezekiel describes their apostasy (Ezek 8:14). Yet there are other mythological sources for Tammuz which do not include the goddess, perhaps the most intriguing being “Dumuzi’s Dream” as it presents a totally different version of the death of the god, one related to his being a shepherd (Gurney 1962: 153; Miller 1980: 50). Other minor works also dwell upon the fact that Tammuz is dead (Gurney 1962: 154), so this aspect of the cult of the god appears to be consistent, while a return to the living is, at best, conjectural. ” [ABD,”tammuz”]

Melquart, Eshmun.

These are Phoenician deities, discussed by Ward in POTW:204: “Dying and reviving gods (Melquart, Eshmun, and Adonis) related to the seasonal pattern have been postulated (emphasis mine), though here the evidence is all from classical sources.” “According to the Greek historian Menander, and as repeated by Flavius Josephus (first century A.D.), the temple of Heracles (that is, of Milqart) at Tyre was founded by King Hiram in the tenth century B.C. According to the same sources, a curious celebration called the “awakening of Milqart” belongs to the same period. Several explanations have been proposed, almost always based on Greek sources. In this perspective, Milqart is a god of vegetation, dying and reborn, the festivals of “burial and resurrection” implying sexual rites, notably the hieros gamos (sacred marriage). But in the absence of direct sources, and because of the difficulties raised by the explanation of some difficult passages in the Phoenician and Punic texts, one must remain cautious. As for the god Eshmun, in Tyre he seems to have been confined to his role as healer-god, inferior to Milqart, in contrast with the situation in Sidon where, as was noted, Eshmun was an important deity.” [WR:MYB:1:196]

“Classical sources, however, reveal that Melqart was thought of as being asleep during the winter months [ABD,’baal’; note ‘asleep’ is not the same as ‘dead’…]

(Just so you know, Mithras is not included in this section because he is not a ‘suffering’ or ‘dying’ deity) at all: “Finally, even if we grant the importance of the ‘suffering god’ myth for mysteries, it is virtually impossible to include Mithras in this company…Once again we must acknowledge the special position of the mysteries of Mithras: they are mysteries without a ‘suffering god’ myth. [HI:AMC:76]

Macleod summarizes this:

“Since the time of the Renaissance the mystery religions of antiquity have engaged the attention of scholars, and since the nineteenth century a number of more radical scholars have argued that there was widespread worship of a dying and rising fertility god—Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Adonis in Syria, Attis in Asia Minor, and Osiris in Egypt. It is to these Greco-Oriental myths, it is said, that one must look for the origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection. The controversial Hugh Schonfield wrote, “Christians remained related under the skin to the devotees of Adonis and Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras.” Earlier in the century a French scholar, Alfred Loisy, had written that Jesus was “a savior-god, after the manner of an Osiris, an Attis, a Mithra…Like Adonis, Osiris, and Attis he had died a violent death, and like them he had returned to life.” “The evidence for such a view is, however, is fragile. There are three serious objections to the view: First, the parallels with Christ’s resurrection are superficial. Mesopotamian Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi), for example, is not rescued from the underworld but is sent there by the goddess Inanna-Ishtar as her substitute. In another fragmentary text Tammuz has his sister take his place for half the year. Some have argued that initiation into the mysteries of Isis are comparable to Christianity. However, there is no exact parallel. In the myth Isis promises the initiate not immortality or resurrection but that he shall live under her protection. When he does die and go to the realm of the dead, he shall adore her. Perhaps the only pagan god for whom there is a resurrection is the Egyptian Osiris. Close examination of this story shows that it is very different from Christ’s resurrection. Osiris did not rise; he ruled in the abode of the dead. As biblical scholar, Roland de Vaux, wrote, “What is meant of Osiris being ‘raised to life?’ Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence. But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead…This revived god is in reality a ‘mummy’ god.”… No, the mummified Osiris was hardly an inspiration for the resurrected Christ…As Yamauchi observes, “Ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death.” But it is a mistake to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the biblical doctrine of resurrection. To achieve immortality the Egyptian had to meet three conditions: First, his body had to be preserved by mummification. Second, nourishment was provided by the actual offering of daily bread and beer. Third, magical spells were interred with him. His body did not rise from the dead; rather elements of his personality—his Ba and Ka—continued to hover over his body. [“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Myth, Hoax, or History?” David J. MacLeod, in The Emmaus Journal, V7 #2, Winter 98, p169

Smith summaries the bankruptcy of the Dying and Rising Gods position quite simply (p.526):

“As the above examples make plain, the category of dying and rising deities is exceedingly dubious. It has been based largely on Christian interest and tenuous evidence. As such, the category is of more interest to the history of scholarship than to the history of religions.”

In other words, the Jesus stories were NOT based on some alleged earlier (and common) Dying and Rising God theme–for it simply has never existed.

Pushback “Hey, didn’t I read somewhere that the Early Church Father dudes themselves interpreted all these pagan gods as ‘dying and rising’ gods? And that the main reason these gods are considered “Jesus-like” is because THEY described them this way? If that’s true, then wouldn’t that prove that these cults DID have DARG’s in them–in spite of what modern scholars say?”

Good question. It is true that most of our evidence about these cults come from late literary sources, and that many of these literary sources are Christian.

First of all, most of the indigenous texts about a deity do not indicate a ‘dying and rising’ status for the deity, although occasionally some texts in that language are used as evidence for a DARG-status (e.g., the early interpretations of the Marduk material): “The list of specific deities to whom the appellation “dying and rising” has been attached varies. In most cases, the decipherment and interpretation of texts in the language native to the deity’s cult has led to questions as to the applicability of the category.” [Smith, 522]

Secondly, DARG-categories aren’t applied to these deities until very much later, and generally then by “re-interpreters” in the Classical tradition, and generally after Christian concepts have been established in the culture: “The majority of evidence for Near Eastern dying and rising deities occurs in Greek and Latin texts of late antiquity, usually post-Christian in date.” [Smith, 522]

Third, Smith gives a detailed example of Adonis [with my annotations in brackets]: “The rituals of Adonis, held during the summer months, are everywhere described as periods of intense mourning [these are the ‘native language’ and indigenous accounts]. Only late texts, largely [but not exclusively, as with Lucian] influenced by or written by Christians, claim that there is a subsequent day of celebration for Adonis having been raised from the dead. The earliest of these is alleged to be the second century account of Lucian (Syrian Goddess 6-7) that, on the third day of the ritual, a statue of Adonis is “brought out into the light” and “addressed as if alive”; but this is an ambiguous report. Lucian goes on to say that some think the ritual is not for Adonis but rather for some Egyptian deity. The practice of addressing a statue “as if alive” is no proof of belief in resurrection; rather it is the common presupposition of any cultic activity in the Mediterranean world that uses images. Besides, Lucian reports that after the “address” women cut their hair as a sign of mourning…Considerably later, the Christian writers Origen [185-255] and Jerome[349?-420], commenting on Ezekiel 8:14, and Cyril of Alexandria and Procopius of Gaza, commenting on Isaiah 18: 1, clearly report joyous festivities on the third day to celebrate Adonis (identified with Tammuz) having been “raised from the dead.” [p.522]

Fourth, he points out that this occurs often, and that this information is generally the only data that indicates some kind of DARGness about the deity (!):

“This pattern will recur for many of the figures considered: an indigenous mythology and ritual focusing on the deity’s death and rituals of lamentation, followed by a later Christian report adding the element nowhere found in the earlier native sources, that the god was resurrected. (p.522)
Smith lists two possible reasons for these Christian comments”

“Whether this represents an interpretatio Christiana or whether late third- and fourth-century forms of the Adonis cult themselves developed a dying and rising mythology (possibility in imitation of the Christian myth) cannot be determined.

The Christian interpretation point (perhaps better phrased as “Christian paranoia”?) was certainly operative in Tertullian (c.200), with his accusation of ‘imitation’ against the pagan cults. He mentions their competing with Christian ‘sacraments’, by offering their own type of water baptism and oblation of bread, and even uses the phrase “a semblance of a resurrection” (in the Mithras cult). As we noted earlier, “full” bodily resurrection was a Christian distinctive (drawing scorn from Celsus and Porphyry), so it is certainly understandable how some Christian writers could get sensitized to ‘see it’ hiding in analogous images and references-especially phenomena that they personally were not involved in. Although they came from diverse pre-Christian backgrounds, they do not seem to know very much actual detail about the mystery initiations and beliefs, and may have been ‘guessing’ at this, just as the pagans ‘guessed’ at what went on at the Christian events (e.g. the Lord’s supper was sometimes ‘guessed’ at being cannabalistic). And, that one couldn’t be sure what exactly a pagan meant by ‘resurrection’ can be seen from this section from Celsus, in which he accuses Christians of (a) saying the same thing as traditional resurrection myths; and THEN THAT (b) our resurrection story doesn’t make sense!

“How many others produce wonders like this to convince simple hearers whom they exploit by deceit? They say that Zalmoxis, the slave of Pythagoras, also did this among the Scythians, and Pythagoras himself in Italy, and Rhampsinitus in Egypt. The last-named played dice with Demeter in Hades and returned bearing a gift from her, a golden napkin. Moreover, they say that Orpheus did this among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Heracles at Taenarum, and Theseus. But we must examine this question whether anyone who really died ever rose again with the same body. Or do you think that the stories of these others really are the legends which they appear to be, and yet that the ending of your tragedy is to be regarded as noble and convincing-” [2.55]

Likewise, the possibility of real imitation of Christian elements by the pagan cults should be given adequate weight (especially ritual elements). We have noted that many believe the ‘born to eternity’ taurobolic inscription was influenced by Christianity, and the period in which these references will occur (late) will be the period in which ‘inducements to act/look Christian’ will abound. “Imitation” at the time will be both innocent and manipulative, and often in-between. We must also remember that Tertullian’s (and others’) paranoia over earlier imitation might still have an element of truth in it, especially if the ‘born to eternity’ understanding is correct. Plus, the period in which he and Justin write are after the sweeping changes in religious praxis made by Antoninius Pius, which seem to reflect a syncretistic mood in itself (e.g., the additions of the taurobolix to Cybele, and the imperial focus for taurobolia). We do know, for example, that Julian the Apostate (emperor 360-363 AD) specifically implemented some ‘imitations’:

“He endeavored to purge the revived paganism of its more palpable weaknesses and attempted to incorporate in it some of the institutional features of the Christian Church, such as a hierarchy, monasteries for meditation, penance, the sermon, and almonries” [LHC:1:94] “Thus, a century later, the emperor Julian launched a campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match the Christians.” [ROC:83]

“Pagan attempts to counter the growing influence of Christianity by imitating it are clearly apparent in measures instituted by Julian the Apostate, who was the Roman emperor form A.D. 361 to 363” [Metzger, below] We will also discuss (below) the probable case in which Philostratus imitated some of the miracles of Jesus in his Life of Apollonius.

[BTW, some have argued that the late similarities of some of these cults to one another were ‘parallel developments’ and not interactions between the various cults. In this scenario, the ‘rebirth’ and/or ‘risen again’ terminology would have developed independently in the more intimate cults (e.g., Christianity, some of the Mysteries, some of the associations). This would not affect this particular argument, since it would still be a later-development, and hence, not in the cults at the time the NT was being written.]

I personally think that it will likely be a mix of these two. We do know that the Christian interpretation element may be overly sensitized, since the pagan responses in Celsus and Porphyry never include a “what you Christians offer in resurrection, is something we pagans already have in our DARGs” response. They DO seem to recognize the novelty in the Christian proclamation, so it is probably more a matter of the ‘sensitive’ Christian reading-into some pagan statements than of them seeing what was there all along (but never revealed in the pagan sources). And, we do have some data supporting the imitation model (i.e., the inscription, the accusations, Julian’s actions, and the political pressures to ‘imitate’ later), so it is likely to be at play as well.

What we don’t have any unambiguous evidence for-even including contemporary or near contemporary Christian witness-is for the existence of DARGS prior to the time of the Christian faith.

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