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Those Pre-Christian Deities Aren’t Much Like Jesus After All
by J Warner Wallace
I’ve written about how we, as Christians, ought to respond to the claim that Jesus is simply a fictional re-creation of prior “dying-and-rising” god mythologies. The first step in assessing the evidence requires us to closely examine attributes of the mythological character offered in comparison to Jesus. It turns out that pre-Christian mythologies are far less similar to the story of Jesus than critics claim. When I first began to examine all the alleged similarities, I found that one pre-Christian deity seemed to be most similar to Jesus. When “Jesus Mythers” begin to make their case, they inevitably offer Mithras as their case in point. For this reason, I think it’s fair to examine Mithras in an effort to understand how skeptics construct their arguments related to Jesus and ancient mythologies.
There are two distinct (and non-continuous) traditions related to Mithras, one coming out of the areas of India and Iran, centuries prior to the birth of Jesus, and another developed in Roman times concurrent with the Christian era. Many experts have struggled to try to connect these as one continuous tradition, and in so doing, have distorted or misinterpreted the basic elements of the tradition and
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mythology. There is no surviving Mithraic scripture; most of what is known about Mithras comes from statues and murals that have no captions, or from the writings of ancient Christians who described Mithraic rituals many years after the arrival of Jesus. The vast majority of scholarly work on this mythological character is pure speculation. Given that foundation, let’s take a look at some of the alleged similarities between Mithras and Jesus:
Claim: Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th, in a cave, attended by shepherds
Truth: Mithras was actually born out of solid rock, leaving a cave. He was not born of a virgin (unless you consider the rock mountain to have been a virgin). His birth was celebrated on December 25th, but both Mithras worshippers and the earliest Christians borrowed this celebration from earlier winter solstice celebrations. The earliest version of the Mithras narrative that includes shepherds appears one hundred years after the appearance of the New Testament; it is far more likely Mithraism borrowed the shepherds from Christianity than the other way around…
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