By Prayson Daniel
Is Christianity A Copy-Cat of Mithraism?
Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras—called the Son of God and the Light of the World—was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days.”( The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown 2003, p. 232)
Christianity, claimed by some of its critics, is a copy-cat of Mithraism because the idea of Born of a virgin, born on the 25th of December, born in a stable with shepherds present(or visiting of three Kings), twelve disciples, killed and buried in a tomb/cave to which he rose from the dead three days are borrowed from Mithraism.
A lay Christian who has little knowledge in Philosophical, Theological and Historical Foundation of Christianity would be trouble by such claims. Why so?
Some of Christian Critics Play With Christians’ Ignorance
We are in a period that is influenced by popular entertainment media of every kind, from blogs, movies, TV, and so on. Some of these entertainment medias feed us with false information that are often absorb without critical reasoning or checking their truthfulness.
Before refuting Mithras Myth Parallelism To Christianity, it is best we aware of some known facts.
Son of God and Sun-God English-Word-Play Trick:
English word-play is used to connect Christ Jesus, the Son of God with other Sun-gods. Word play in “O” and “U”. This kind of word-play is an example of forced parallelism that does not work. One of the reason is that English language did not exist in that period of History.(English was not present at rise and practices of Christianity and Mithraism.(Used language was Greek,Huios(Son) and Helios(Sun). Another example of word-play is: gospel to » God spell instead of its origin euangelion, eu-good, angelion-message and First Matter to Virgin Matter to Virgin Mother)
December 25 And Three Kings:
Christ Jesus been born on December 25 was an adopted date by the Catholic Church, ca. 300 years later after Christianity had already began. Lukes 2:8-12 Shepherds in the fields at night decreases the probability that the birth period of Christ Jesus was in winter(December). December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is not Biblical or Historical supported.
Three kings, There are not three kings , but magi(wise man from the East), to whom there number is unknown. It is not until Middle Ages that legend had it that they were Kings and Three in number(probably because of the three gift they offered Mary).
Christ Fish to Zodiac Age of Pisces
ICHTHUS “Greek; Fish” is an acronym of (I)ēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. Thus the claim that Christian symbol of fish is because of Jesus been born at the Zodiac Age of Pisces is in deed fishy.
Checking Truthfulness of Mithras
In checking the truthfulness of claims, choose your sources wisely.
“There is little notice of the Persian god [Mithra] in the Roman world until the beginning of the 2nd century, but, from the year AD 136 onward, there are hundreds of dedicatory inscriptions to Mithra. This renewal of interest is not easily explained. The most plausible hypothesis seems to be that Roman Mithraism was practically a new creation, wrought by a religious genius who may have lived as late as c. AD 100 and who gave the old traditional Persian ceremonies a new Platonic interpretation that enabled Mithraism to become acceptable to the Roman world” (Article entry: Mithraism 2004 edition)
If Encyclopedia Britannica is correct, then Mithraism has not inspire Christianity for the Gospel accounts of Jesus, because they were already written by then.
Refuting Mithras Virgin Birth
They are two accounts of Mithras birth, the Persian’s and the Roman’s account of his birth. In Roman’s account, Mithras is born as an adult out of a rock in a cave:
Mithraic Studies, Mithras, “wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him from the petra genetrix.” Franz Cumon, “The Dura Mithraeum” in John R. Hinnells (ed.), Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies (Manchester University Press, 1975), 173.
Also Manfred Clauss, German Professor for Ancient History in The Roman Cult of Mithras, writes:
“The literary sources here are few but unmistakable: Mithras was known as the rock-born god. The inscriptions confirm this nomenclature: one even reads D(eo) O(omipotenti) S(oli) Invi(cto), Deo Genitori, r(upe) n(ato), ‘To the almighty God Sun invincible, generative god, born from the rock’….Mithras also appears in the archaeological record as the rock-born god. Many images represent the god growing out of a rock with both arms raised aloft….After the bull-slaying, the rock-birth is the most frequently represented event of the myth, either as a detail on reliefs or, quite commonly, as a free-standing image.” (Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras, page 62-63)
Thus unless the rocky mass is a human and virgin, and a fully grown Mithra is a baby, it quite deceptive to claim that this is a Virgin birth.
In Persian’s account of Mithras birth, some argue, was born of Anahita, a goddess that is portrayed as a virgin, dressed in a golden cloak, and wearing a diamond tiara. But this is unlikely because Anahita was sometimes regarded as the consort of Mithra( Encyclopedia Mythica)
G. Widengren, scholar of Iranian myth, argues:
“According to the “legend” of the mysteries Mithras was born from a rock, petra genetrix giving life to him. He is therefore de petra natus… We also know that Mithra was born on the shore of the river Araxes, Ps. Plutarch, De fluviis 23 par. 4 (where, however, a confusion is found in so far as this story is attributed to a son of Mithras), that his father hated women and therefore threw his sperm on a rock which afterwards was pregnant. These details are not as the great pioneer in Mithraic studies [Franz Cumont]assumed “de pure fantaisie”, on the contrary they are part of a birth myth attested among the Ossetians in Caucasus and have already in the Hurrian “Epic of Kumarbi” an unmistakable association. The localization of this scene of Mithra’s birth to the shore of the Araxes in Armenia confirms our presumption that north-western Iran and Armenia was the homeland of Mithraic mysteries. Also the shepherds who are seen on Mithraic reliefs in connection with the birth-scene possess their correspondence in Ossetic tales and Iranian salvation legends, and indicate likewise a north-western origin of the stories about Mithra’s birth”¹
Refuting Crucification, Death and Resurrection of Mithras
There is no record of him being a great teacher with 12 disciples. The only possible association is when Mithra was surrounded by 12 signs(personages of Zodiac) at the slaying of the bull(which is post Christian)
Mithras did not bodily resurrect, One of the myth has it that he was taken to paradise in a chariot alive and well after finishing his earthly mission(No crucification, no resurrection).
Again the German Professor for Ancient History, Manfred Clauss points out
“…the entire discussion is largely unhistorical. To raise the issue of a competition between the two religions is to assume that Christians and Mithraists had the same aims. Such a view exaggerates the missionary zeal — itself a Christian idea — of the other mystery cults. None of them aimed to become the sole legitimate religion of the Roman empire, because they offered an entirely individual and personal salvation. The alternative ‘Mithras or Christ?’ is wrongly framed, because it postulates a competitive situation which, in the eyes of Mithraists, simply did not exist….We should not simply transpose Christian views and terms in this area onto other mystery cults. Most of the parallels between Mithraism and Christianity are part of the common currency of all mystery cults or can be traced back to common origins in the Graeco-oriental culture of the Hellenistic world. The similarities do not at all suggest mutual influence….there are more substantial parallels at the ritual level, particularly the ritual meal….” (Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras, page 168-169,)
We should not simply transpose Christian views and terms onto other mystery cults. It would be reading Christianity into other mythical religion/cult and not the other way around.
These claims are not new objections to Christianity, as 2 Peter 1 :16-18 answers almost the same kind of objection:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.(2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)
To A Christian:
One of the greatest command is to love God with all your mind, and that we are called to be ready to give defense to the hope that we hold with love and gentleness. Thus I plea to you to live like Biblical Christians, be ready to give defense of the faith that you hold in Christ Jesus, sharpen your thinking by taking Logic class, Historical, Theological and Philosophical foundation of Christianity.
Know what you believe and why you believe with reasons and evidences thus when the faith is shaken, the facts hold you on solid ground.
To Jesus-Myth/Copycat Theory Advocate.
The Burden of Proof is in on your side, the responsibility of proving a disputed allegation is place on the affirming side. Copycat Theory advocate affirms that Christianity is a copycat of other myth, to which Christians deny.
I will conclude with the late great evangelical philosopher and apologist Ronald Nash’ Seven Arguments Agaist Christian Dependence of The Mysteries in the Article “Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions”
I conclude by noting seven points that undermine liberal efforts to show that first-century Christianity borrowed essential beliefs and practices from the pagan mystery religions.
(1) Arguments offered to “prove” a Christian dependence on the mysteries illustrate the logical fallacy of false cause. This fallacy is committed whenever someone reasons that just because two things exist side by side, one of them must have caused the other. As we all should know, mere coincidence does not prove causal connection. Nor does similarity prove dependence.
(2) Many alleged similarities between Christianity and the mysteries are either greatly exaggerated or fabricated. Scholars often describe pagan rituals in language they borrow from Christianity. The careless use of language could lead one to speak of a “Last Supper” in Mithraism or a “baptism” in the cult of Isis. It is inexcusable nonsense to take the word “savior” with all of its New Testament connotations and apply it to Osiris or Attis as though they were savior-gods in any similar sense.
(3) The chronology is all wrong. Almost all of our sources of information about the pagan religions alleged to have influenced early Christianity are dated very late. We frequently find writers quoting from documents written 300 years later than Paul in efforts to produce ideas that allegedly influenced Paul. We must reject the assumption that just because a cult had a certain belief or practice in the third or fourth century after Christ, it therefore had the same belief or practice in the first century.
(4) Paul would never have consciously borrowed from the pagan religions. All of our information about him makes it highly unlikely that he was in any sense influenced by pagan sources. He placed great emphasis on his early training in a strict form of Judaism (Phil. 3:5). He warned the Colossians against the very sort of influence that advocates of Christian syncretism have attributed to him, namely, letting their minds be captured by alien speculations (Col. 2:8).
(5) Early Christianity was an exclusivistic faith. As J. Machen explains, the mystery cults were nonexclusive. “A man could become initiated into the mysteries of Isis or Mithras without at all giving up his former beliefs; but if he were to be received into the Church, according to the preaching of Paul, he must forsake all other Saviors for the Lord Jesus Christ….Amid the prevailing syncretism of the Greco-Roman world, the religion of Paul, with the religion of Israel, stands absolutely alone.” This Christian exclusivism should be a starting point for all reflection about the possible relations between Christianity and its pagan competitors. Any hint of syncretism in the New Testament would have caused immediate controversy.
(6) Unlike the mysteries, the religion of Paul was grounded on events that actually happened in history. The mysticism of the mystery cults was essentially nonhistorical. Their myths were dramas, or pictures, of what the initiate went through, not real historical events, as Paul regarded Christ’s death and resurrection to be. The Christian affirmation that the death and resurrection of Christ happened to a historical person at a particular time and place has absolutely no parallel in any pagan mystery religion.
(7) What few parallels may still remain may reflect a Christian influence on the pagan systems. As Bruce Metzger has argued, “It must not be uncritically assumed that the Mysteries always influenced Christianity, for it is not only possible but probable that in certain cases, the influence moved in the opposite direction.” It should not be surprising that leaders of cults that were being successfully challenged by Christianity should do something to counter the challenge. What better way to do this than by offering a pagan substitute? 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 from A.D. 361 to 363.
To that I will end this article by concluding that Christianity ideas being borrowed or influenced by Mithraism because of false parallel with Christianity is a “Myth”.
Conspiracy Science: A None Christian site dedicated in refuting all kinds of conspiracy.
1. G. Widengren, “The Mithraic Mysteries in the Graeco-Roman World with Special Regard to their Iranian background”, La Persia e il mondo grecoromano Accad. Naz. dei Lincei 76(1966), pp. 444-45; I. M. Diakonoff, Phyrgian (Delmar, N.Y., 1985)
2. See W. F. Flemington, The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism (London: SPCK, 1948), 76-81.
3. See J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1925) 9