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Jesus-Pagan link

Parallels between Christianity
and ancient Pagan religions

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The following topics are covered in this essay

bulletSimilarities between Pagan and Christian practices
bulletReasons for the similarities
bulletImplications of the similarities

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Similarities between Pagan and Christian practices

The early Christians and Pagans shared many rituals and practices. Authors Freke & Gandy appear to assume that all of the copying was done by Christians from Pagan sources. 3 However, some might have gone in the opposite direction. During the 3rd century CE, Mithraism and Christianity were the main competitors for the religious affiliation the citizens of Romans. Some Christian practices might have actually been picked up by the Mithraites, rather than vice-versa.

bulletMany early Christians celebrated Jesus' birthday on JAN-6. Armenian Christians still do. In Alexandria, in what is now Egypt, the birthday of their god-man, Aion, was also celebrated on JAN-6.
bulletChristians and most Pagans eventually celebrated the birthday of their god-man on DEC-25.
bulletAccording to an ancient Christian tradition, Christ died on MAR-23 and resurrected on MAR-25. These dates agree precisely with the death and resurrection of Attis.
bulletBaptism was a principal ritual; it washed away a person's sins. In some rituals, Baptism was performed by sprinkling holy water on the believer; in others, the person was totally immersed.
bulletThe most important sacrament was a ritual meal of bread and wine which symbolize the god-man's body and blood. His followers were accused of engaging in cannibalism.
bulletEarly Christians initiated converts in March and April by baptism. Mithraism initiated their new members at this time as well.
bulletEarly Christians were naked when they were baptized. After immersion, they then put on white clothing and a crown. They carried a candle and walked in a procession to a basilica. Followers of Mithra were also baptized naked, put on white clothing and a crown, and walked in a procession to the temple. However, they carried torches.
bulletAt Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were recorded as speaking in tongues. At Trophonius and Delos, the Pagan priestesses also spoke in tongues: They appeared to speak in such a way that each person present heard her words in the observer's own language. 
bulletAn inscription to Mithras reads: "He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made on with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation." 1 In John 6:53-54, Jesus is said to have repeated this theme: "...Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (KJV)
bulletThe Bible records that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One went to heaven and the other to hell. In the Mithras mysteries, a common image showed Mithras flanked by two torchbearers, one on either side. One held a torch pointed upwards, the other downwards. This symbolized ascent to heaven or descent to hell.
bulletIn Attis, a bull was slaughtered while on a perforated platform. The animal's blood flowed down over an initiate who stood in a pit under the platform. The believer was then considered to have been "born again." Poor people could only afford a sheep, and so were literally washed in the blood of the lamb. This practice was interpreted symbolically by Christians.
bulletThere were many additional points of similarity between Mithraism and Christianity. 2 St. Augustine even declared that the priests of Mithraism worshiped the same God as he did:
bulletFollowers of both religions celebrated a ritual meal involving bread. It was called a missa in Latin or mass in English.
bulletBoth the Catholic church and Mithraism had a total of seven sacraments.
bulletEpiphany, JAN-6, was originally the festival in which the followers of Mithra celebrated the visit of the Magi to their newborn god-man. The Christian Church took it over in the 9th century. 

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Reasons for the Pagan-Christian similarities:

There are many possible explanations of the similarities between earlier Pagan and later Christian beliefs, practices, and the lives of their god-men:

bulletChristians copied Pagans: This is perhaps the most obvious theory. Celsus was a Platonist and polemical writer against Christianity who lived in the late 2nd century CE  According to Freke & Gandy, he "complained that this recent religion [of Christianity} was only a pale reflection" of Pagan belief. 3 According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Celsus pointed out that Christianity copied the concepts of others. Christian "...ideas concerning the origin of the universe, etc., are common to all peoples and to the wise men of antiquity."4 Many modern-day writers and theologians have accepted this theory. 3,5,6,7
bulletSatan did it to deceive: Various early church writers, such as Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons; circa 120 CE to ?) Justin Martyr (Christian apologist; 100 to 165), Tertullian (Christian theologian; circa 160 to 220 +) concluded that the Pagan/Christian similarities were a Satanic attempt at "diabolical mimicry." Satan was said to have use "plagiarism by anticipation." That is, the Devil made a pre-emptive strike against the gospel stories centuries before Jesus was born. The reason was to confuse the public into thinking that Jesus was merely a copy of previous god-men. The goal was to demolish the credibility of Christianity in the people's eyes.
bulletIt was a type of prophecy: Other Christian writers have concluded that the Mysteries were a type of  pre-echo of Jesus' life -- "somewhat like premonitions or prophecies." 3
bulletChristianity accepted Pagan mythology as literal truth of real events: Authors Freke & Gandy have concluded that the original, main Christian movement was Gnostic Christianity. They kept their inner mysteries secret, revealing them only to those who have been initiated into their branch of the Christian faith. 3 Some early non-Gnostic, "literalist" Christians were unaware of the inner mysteries of Gnosticism. They came to accept the Gnostic outer, public, mysteries and their myth of a god-man savior as an actual description of the historical Jesus. The literalist Christians, being ignorant of the inner mysteries, did not realize that the god-man story was only a legend about a mythical being. Decades later, literalist Christianity became the dominant movement. They oppressed and exterminated the Gnostics, their rituals, and their knowledge. A few Gnostics survived to the present day. The movement is currently experiencing rapid growth.
bulletCoincidences: These points of similarity could have been coincidental. There are many cases in comparative religion where similar beliefs or practices are seen in two unrelated religions. The pyramid structures in Egypt are like those in Mexico. Yet most archaeologists believe that there is no link between the countries; the shapes were chosen independently. In ancient times, the only way to create a really large structure was to pile stones on top of each other in the form of a pyramid. Similarly, almost all religions share an Ethic of Reciprocity, like the Golden Rule. Still, the almost 200 precise matches between the events in the lives of Jesus and Horus, and the 346 "striking analogies between Christ and Chrishna" 6 would seem to make this theory unlikely.
bulletReverse copying: A strong case can be made that wholesale copying of beliefs and rituals by various religions has occurred in the past. However, as noted above, some Christian beliefs and practices may have stolen by the followers of Mithra from their Christian rivals rather than vice versa. This theory might have some validity with respect to Mithraism. However, it cannot explain the stories of the life of Horus which proceeded Jesus' ministry in the first century CE by a few thousand years.
bulletForgeries: Some have suggested that ancient evidence of Pagan god-men living similar lives to Jesus prior to the first century CE is a gigantic hoax. Anti-Christian religious historians and archaeologists have simply created fictional sets of religious beliefs, promoted them as accurate representations of ancient religions, and have perpetrated a massive hoax. This also is unlikely. The original source material is still available for academics to check. Someone by now would have written a book exposing the hoax; it would have become a best-seller.

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Implications of the Pagan-Christian similarities

Conservative Christians accept the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible. The writings of the authors of the gospels are without error. The gospels describe the life of Jesus with precision. Thus ancient Pagan practices in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean are of no concern to the believer. They cannot impact on the credibility of the Bible which is God's word.

To some liberal Christians, the Pagan-Christian parallels are convincing proof that much of the magical components of the gospels are of Pagan origin: the virgin birth, bringing dead people back to life, the many miraculous healings, exorcisms, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, Jesus' anticipated return to judge humanity, etc. These stories were derived from Pagan material that had been circulating for centuries when Jesus was born. Except for the occasional coincidence, that material cannot refer to real events in Jesus' life. Many key Christian beliefs have to be questioned and perhaps abandoned. 

One comforting factor may be a recognition that some of the basic teachings of Christianity and some of the traditionally accepted events of Jesus' life may actually be over 4,500 years old, grounded in the pre-history of humanity. Another is that, when we strip away the miraculous and supernatural legends in the gospels which came from Pagan sources, we are left with the natural. What remains is a story of an itinerant Jewish teacher who taught through parables and by example. It is the core teachings of Jesus which emerge from the gospels -- undiluted by Pagan material.

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References:

  1. J. Goodwin, "Mystery Religions of the Ancient World," Thames & Hudson, (1981), Page 28. Quoted in Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God?" Acacia Press, (1999), Page 49. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. "Mithra," Barbara G. Walker, "The Woman's encyclopedia of myths and secrets," Harper & Row, (1996), Pages 663 to 665. Read reviews or order this book
  3. Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, "The Jesus Mysteries." Cited above.
  4. "Celsus the Platonist," The Catholic Encyclopedia, at: http://www.newadvent.org/
  5. Acharya S, "The Christ conspiracy: the greatest story ever sold," Read reviews or order this book "...an enormous amount of startling evidence to demonstrate that Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ were created by members of various secret societies, mystery schools and religions in order to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion.  In making such a fabrication, this multinational cabal drew upon a multitude of myths and rituals that already existed long before the Christian era, and reworked them for centuries into the story and religion passed down today."
  6. Kersey Graves, "The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors," Adventures Unlimited Press, Chapter 32, Page 279. (1875; Reprinted 2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  7. Tom Harpur, "The Pagan Christ; Recovering the Lost Light," Thomas Allen, (2004). ARead reviews or order this book.

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Home page > Christianity > Christian personalities > Jesus > Pagan link > here

or Home page > Religious information > God > Jesus > Pagan link > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally written: 1999-NOV-14
Latest update: 2008-APR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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