Pagan Influences in Christianity Is Jesus unique? Were there Pagan Gods who were exactly like Jesus before the New Testament was written? Ehteshaam analyzes the critics of Christians claims of pagan influences that shaped the Christ story and clarifies myths and misconceptions about the topic.
First off I want to say that the book The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors By Kersey Graves shouldn't really be trusted and scholars really count that book as useless. You can read a critical review of the book by Dr.Carrier here.
However that's not to say that there weren't any Pagan Influences in Christainity. There were in fact two Pre-Christian Gods who are exactly like the Christian version of Jesus. They are the Thracian god Zalmoxis who was buried and resurrected during his time (this story was invented around 500-400 B.C.E. By Pagan Greeks). The other Pre-Christian Pagan Godess who is like the Christian Jesus would be Inanna who was crucified and was physically resurrected. The story is told in Clay Tablets dating back to 1500 B.C.E. There is a lot of evidence that the idea of worshipping a "crucified" diety did pre-date Christainity and entered into Jewish society in 1st century Palestine. It is said that there are other Pre-Christian Gods whose story is strikingly similar to the Christian story of Jesus. Even Justin Matyr (an early Christian apologist and saint) wrote that there were many similarities between Jesus and Pre-Christian Pagan Savior Gods. He wrote to the Pagans:
"When we say that the Word, who is first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven; we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter (Zeus)." [First Apology, ch. xxi]
However I don't really know what scholars have to say about these Pre-Christian Gods--who are exactly like the Biblical Jesus. I'll list them.
Horus- The Egyptain Pre-Christian God Horus bares many similiarities to the Christian version of Jesus. For example Horus was considered the "son of God" Horus baptized with water by Anup (Jesus baptized with water by John), Horus was seen as the Lamb (Jesus as the Lamb), Horus was identified with the Tat Cross (Jesus with the cross), and Horus had 12 disciples...just like Jesus. (Leedom, Massey)
Isis and Osiris (2500 BCE) Dating from the Egyptian empires, Isis and Osiris were popular gods in Roman times. Isis was an Egyptian mother goddess depicted by artists as a Madonna holding her infant son Horus. Isis was the center of a mystery cult in the Roman era that promised believers personal help in attaining a happy existence after death. Her male consort Osiris suffered death by being torn to pieces, but was restored to new life as god of the Underworld.
Quetzalcoatl (1300 BCE) The aztecs in Pre-conquest Mexico believed that Quetzalcoatl was born of a virgin and was tempted and fasted for 40 days. He was crucified, rose from the dead, and went into the East. The Aztecs were awaiting and expecting his return when Cortez and the Spanish invaded the Valley of Mexico. Moctezuma mistook the blond Cortez with his plumed helmet for the promised Quetzalcoatl and welcomed him and his small army inside the gates.
Attis (1000 BCE) The Phyrygian god Attis is one of the earliest "dying god" figures. His death and renewal ritual includes a "Day of Blood" and a "Day of Joy" both in early Spring. Attis is hanged on a tree and is united with the Great Goddess (the virgin Nana) after his death.
Dionysus (600 BCE) Dionysus was born of the virgin princess Semele and had a narrow escape from attempts to kill him as an infant. His formative years are "missing" but he emerges as an adult manifesting miraculous gifts. He endures struggle with evil forces. He returns to his hometown resulting in his rejection by family and former neighbors, betrayal, and suffering. Following his death, he descends into the underworld and rises to divine immortality, joining his father Zeus on Mount Olympus. He evangelizes the world, establishing his universal cult. He punishes all opponents who deny his divinity.
Adonis (600 BCE) Adonis was a Greco-Roman version of a Babylonian god. Adonis Semetic name, Adonai (which means Lord). He was said to have been born of a virign (Myrrha) some versions ay that at his death he was castrated. After his death the red anemone sprang up in symbolic resurrection from the earth. Early Christian writers (Origen, Jerome, etc) report joyous celebrations of resurrection on the third day after his birth.
The Mystery Religions (450 BCE) Known as the "mysteries" because members took oaths never to reveal secert rituals, many of these cults anticipate Christianity. Members worshipped a divine being who died and was raised from the dead, and who could bring peace on earth and eternal life after death. Initates went through a period of ritual purification (baptism) and instruction. In some of these secert religions, celebrants shared a communal meal in which they symbolically ate the flesh and drank the blood of their god.
Apollonius of Tyana- Sometime around the 4th century Anti-Christian writers were pointing out striking similarities between Jesus and Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius was a Neo-Pyhagorean teacher who was born just before the Christian era. Apollonius was referred to as the Son of God, did miracles, was killed, was "resurrected" in front of his followers and ascended into heaven.
Mithras- The Mystery cult of Mithras was first established in the Roman world in the 1st half of the 1st century. This cult shows striking similarities to Christian baptism and Eucharist.
Inshallah (Allah willing) I'll do more research on this topic. I am certainly no expert in this area. However the fact is there were Pre-Christian Gods who are exactly like the Christian version of Jesus. Its a historical fact that Greek and Roman paganism was filled with the idea of ordinary men being or becoming gods (Romulus was said to a god from heaven and Heculues was said to be the literal son of God). There are even Pre-Christian Greco-Roman stoires of mortals dying then becoming gods (such as Heculues). Pre-Christian myths of Demeter, Dionysos, Persephone, Castor and Pollux, Isis and Osiris, and Cybele and Attis, do carry a theme of metaphorical resurrection, usually in the terms of a return or escape from the Underworld, explaining the shifting seasons. It's possible that Christians were influenced by these myths. Now how much of these Pagan Myths influenced the Christian story of Jesus, I don't know.But what's very interesting is that early Christians never denied that there were Pre-Christian Gods who were exactly like their version of Jesus. These early Christians tried to explain away these Pre-Christian resurrection cults by saying the Devil of fabricating them to fool mankind and lead us astray. I find that interesting.
During the century following Christs death, Christianity developed and spread in competition with many established and older philosophies and religions. Addressing persons familar with the symbols, rites, and concepts of the Greco-Roman world, New Testament writers commonly phrase their message about Jesus in terms that their Greek and Roman readers would understand by borrowing and adapting existing literary constructs.
The Early Christain Church did not at first have a well developed story about Christ's physical origin on earth. They didn't need one because he was thought to be returning imminently. When such a narrative was added to the record of Christ the redeemer (75-85 CE) and recorded by Matthew and Luke, they drew upon existing literary formulas to establish the credentials of their messiah. The oral narrative of Jesus within 50 years of his death gradually acquired the established features of redeemer-hero narratives.
Thier audience during the 1st century CE who believed Christ was the long awaited Messiah was familar with those literary features and fully expected them. To qualify Christ as a genunine redeemer in the ancient world, it would have been impossible to omit the features of a standard mythical biography.
Anyways, this could mean that the historical Jesus got buried behind these pagan myths and legends and what Islam has to say about Jesus is correct historically. As we can see the Biblical Jesus or Christainity's version of Jesus is not unique-- it's been done before. There were many Gods and Godessses who were born a virgin birth, did miracles, were killed and then resurrected that pre-date Christianity. It's very possible that the Gospel writers were influenced or got their ideas from these myths and legends.
There are many websites which discuss this topic even further which you can visit if your interested (*) (*) (*) (*) (*) (*) (*) (*).