Currently from all different spheres of influence (the new atheist’s; Jesus scholars as well as the National Geographic Channel), we are experiencing a lot of ludicrous attempts to discredit the historical fact and the liable scriptural evidence of who Jesus Christ really was (and is.) Numerous attempts have been made to bring similarities between Christ and Mithras, Simon Magus and Apollonius of Tyana.
The Apostles and early writers of the New Testament have been accused of Syncretism or rampant plagiarism of old folk stories and religious qualms. One of the recent attacks from eminent theologians denies the legitimacy of Christ and the Gospel claims by using resources that are historical in context but also partial in their explanation. These sources are ancient folklore and abridged stories to which they long to draw parallels to the historicity of Christ so they can declare Him superfluous and even unrealistic.
They try to prove a progression stemming from “folklore” to becoming “faith’s door” and in the end measure surety with “certainty”. They will then declare that in the investigation of both we can clearly see both histories had its roots in history, its sway in adventurous myths and its end in reason? Therefore by cheer “reason”, we can declare both the stories of Christ and Mithras to be the illegitimate brainchild of wishful thinking! What I am trying to do here is to show and give a reasonable historical explanation on the story of Mithras as well as refute the outrageous claim that Jesus and he was ever the same in their methods, teachings, and behaviors.
The History of Mithras.
According to Mithraic scholar Franz Cumont, the first mention of Mithra was made in a treaty from 1400 B.C. (Other, more recent, scholars place this date at around 700 B.C.) At this time and after, Mithraic tradition indicated Mithra as a deity who gave orders and guidance to the military, as well as dispensed justice to those who broke political treaties. As religion developed, the Mithraic story grew richer. Mithra became known as the provider of rain, bringing vegetation and health to the people. However, to the Persians who held to this tradition, Mithra was not the supreme deity, but subservient to another god, Varuna, who was specifically associated with the culture’s rice harvest. Some descriptions of Mithra have been translated, “Lord of the Contract,” “Upholder of Truth,” “Peaceful, benevolent protector,” and “Not easily provoked.”
Even later mentions of Mithra characterize him again as a warrior, though at some point they seem to have reverted again to depicting him as a pacifist deity. When Zoroastrian religion developed in Persia (estimated at around 440 B.C., according to Herodotus’ The Histories), Mithra’s previous association with treaties developed into his role as a “mediator” between the gods of good and evil, Ohrmazd and Ahriman, respectively. He was considered part of a larger pantheon of seven deities that served the gods of the upper spiritual echelon. In this Mithraic-Zoroastrian incantation, Mithra’s role in the cosmos also included delivering the condemned to hell and the saved to heaven. By the first century B.C., Mithra was still associated with these themes, in addition to having some sort of relationship with the gods Apollos and Hermes.
The Roman Mithraic tradition seems to only be linked to the Persian Mithra by name, though in the Hellenistic and Roman traditions, he is referred to as Mithras (the Greek masculine form of Mithra). The Roman Mithraic story involves the heroic slaying of a sacred bull by Mithras, perhaps an astrological allegory, though the Persian details, treaty enforcement, agriculture, and escorting of souls, seem to no longer apply.
According to Roman tradition, Mithras’ heroic slaying of the bull gained him the favor of the sun god. Other than tracking the evolution of the name of Mithras across the two traditions, scholars in the 20th century have failed to establish a substantial link between the two Mithraic traditions in terms of their actual beliefs. Rather, the latest scholarship in regard to Mithras suggests that the Romans founded their version of Mithraism in response to the astrological discovery of the movement of the heavens (now referred to as the precession of the equinoxes). Scholars who advocate the astrological thesis suggest that the Persian name of Mithras was given to the god who they believed orchestrated this movement (Perseus in the Roman tradition) due to an alliance at the time with a leader from Asia Minor named Mithridates and the influence of Mithraic Cilician pirates.
Despite what seems to be an obvious lack of related details between the Mithraic tradition and the origins of Christianity, critics nonetheless allege that certain details of the Christian tradition were adapted, if not outright “stolen” from Mithraism.
“Like Jesus, Mithras was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave. His birth was also attended by shepherds.”
Many Christians are well aware that there is no Biblical basis for setting the date of the birth of Jesus on December 25th. History shows that this date was introduced as significant to Christ later by the post-apostolic church, no doubt influenced by the multiplicity of sacred festivals occurring at this time. According to Mithraic tradition, Mithras was not born of a virgin in a cave. In fact, Mithras was said to have been born, fully grown, from solid rock; the event leaving a cavity behind. There was no mention of a virgin. Interestingly, the story continues to describe Mithras being helped out of the rock by shepherds, who offer him a pick from their flock. Yet according to Mithraic tradition, Mithras was created prior to the creation of mankind. Consequently, the Mithraic “shepherds” cannot be legitimately compared to those of the Christian tradition. Lastly, the earliest existing record of this narrative is from around 100 years after the manuscripts of the New Testament, leaving no room for claims that the Christian tradition copied the story and attributed it to Jesus. (Note also that the later Persian Mithraic traditions recount his conception through the incestual copulation of the god Ahura-Mazda and his mother. The Christian virgin birth story is principally concerned with the humanity of Mary and God’s role in the creation of Jesus through her. There is no parallel between this and the Mithraic story.)
“Mithras was also considered a great traveling teacher and master.”
This particular attribute is probably one of the most common identifiers of just about every spiritual leader in history. However, there is no mention in the Mithraic tradition of Mithras being an itinerant teacher like Jesus. If this claim is to be taken seriously as evidence that Christian tradition appropriated from Mithraic tradition, one must also take into account the travels and teachings of other spiritual figures like Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, etc.
“Mithras had 12 disciples.”
The Persian Mithra was often associated with the god Varuna, such that one might infer that they were considered a pair. However, in this tradition, Mithra is short 10 companions. In the Roman tradition, Mithras was accompanied by two entities, created after his own image, named Cautes and Catopatres. They have been said to represent day and night or spring and fall or life and death. Mithras was also associated with the snake, the dog, the lion, and the scorpion, likely due to the astrological origin of the Roman tradition. Still, Mithras’ companions only add up to 6 at most, taking all into account. Some claim that a Mithraic stone carving, which depicts the famous bull scene with one vertical row of six images on each side, proves the “12 disciples” connection. However, most current Mithraic scholarship attributes these to zodiac representations. In addition to acknowledging that since the carving itself dates to well after the time of Jesus, any connections to the Christian tradition of 12 disciples would have to implicate Mithraism as the copycat, not Christianity. In the other direction, one would have to claim that Christianity stole the number twelve from astrology- likely a much more difficult case to make.
“Mithras offered eternal life to his followers.”
Like the “traveling teacher” connection, this claim no more implicates Christianity as it does just about every religious tradition that posits life after death. Incidentally, the only specific mention of a Mithraic offer of eternal life to his followers exists in a piece of writing dated to 200 A.D., which has been translated, “and us, too, you saved by spilling the eternal blood.” In Mithraic tradition, the blood is not the blood of Mithras, but that of the bull he slaughtered, and “saved” referred to being approved to ascend through other levels toward immortality. It was clearly not the same type of salvation that is taught in Christian theology.
“Mithras performed miracles.”
While both the Iranian Mithra and the Roman Mithras traditions recount acts of great power done by Mithra(s), this is hardly an incriminating fact. Like the teaching and offering of immortality, this is another common attribute of any religious figure. To make this claim worthwhile, one would have to show similarities in type of miracle (i.e. Mithras walked on water, healed the blind, or raised the dead).
“Mithras sacrificed himself for mankind.”
Some Mithraic scholars have tried to depict Mithras and the bull he had slain as one and the same, construing the story to represent that Mithras gave his own life. However, the narrative in no way suggests this. At best, Mithras could be considered heroic for his victory over the bull, though more likely is the modern interpretation that the bull slaying story corresponded to astrological themes. However, this has no comparison to the Christian claim that Jesus died as an atonement for the sins of mankind.
“Mithras was buried in a tomb, and after three days, He rose again.”
In Prescription Against Heretics, Tertullian writes, “if my memory still serves me, Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan), sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers; celebrates also the oblation of bread, and introduces an image of a resurrection, and before a sword wreathes a crow.” This is the only reference from which some Mithraic scholars claim a correlation between Mithraic and Christian traditions. Unfortunately, having been written after the New Testament, there is no evidence that what it describes predates Christianity. Nor is there really any compelling aspect to Tertullian’s description that would indicate that these practices were authentic to Mithraism or even appropriately compared to Christian tradition.
“Mithras said, “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.”
There is no evidence for this saying being attributed to Mithras. Scholars have, however, found this saying attributed to Zarathustra, though in a medieval document (remember that Zarathustra, the founding prophet of Zoroastrianism, is thought to have lived sometime around 2000 B.C.). Though followers of Mithras were known to have fellowship meals, at which was eaten bread, water, wine and meat, such circumstances were common to meals shared by many people in many different contexts.
It should be emphasized that none of the alleged similarities between Mithras and Jesus can be shown to apply to the Persian Mithra, but only to the Roman Mithraic tradition, which did not really flourish until after the time of the New Testament. That said, the alleged connections are quite dubious, as I explained above. In fact, no archeological evidence for this tradition can be argued to exist from any earlier than A.D. 90. This seems to suggest that the re-emergence of Mithras in the Roman context preserved the name of the Persian deity, yet adopted a new set of traditions more closely linked to the many mystery religions of the time. In any case, the overall Mithraic tradition should actually be thought of as two distinct movements, having little to do with one another beyond having a god of the same name.
The driving force of these comparisons appears to be a deliberate application of language resembling that used in Christian tradition to traditions that never actually used that language in the first place. For example, referring to the “birth” of Mithras to a “virgin” is absurd given that, according to Mithraic tradition, he was not “born” in the human sense at all, but came into being out of the lifeless solid rock. Perhaps one might claim that the lifeless solid rock, having never before had an entity emerge from it, was “virgin-like,” but that would be an extreme stretch in language and meaning, and more akin to an intentional characterization of Mithraic tradition in Christian terms. Similarly, if Mithraic tradition could be shown to teach that Mithras instructed his followers to gather together in a fellowship meal, it would be misleading to refer to this as a Mithraic “last supper.”
Even if Roman Mithraism did hold to traditions similar to Christianity, it would be false to assume that simply because the two traditions existed similarly and contemporaneously one must have preceded or caused the other. Like liberal Biblical scholars that give priority to Gnostic sources on Jesus, though they date long after the canonical Gospels, those that desire to establish a link between Mithras and Jesus must contend with the fact that the existing sources for Roman Mithraism are all post-Christian and cannot be said to have influenced Christian doctrine.
I do find it strange that these allegations persist despite the overwhelming fact that the historicity of the character of Mithras is incomparable to that of Jesus of Nazareth.
Given that Mithras is obviously a mythical character, and that no evidence exists to show that a man name Mithras actually lived at some point in history and had followers in the same sense as the Christian disciples, the notion of Mithras actually participating in historical events and teaching actual people is significantly questionable. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence, attested to by multiple independent sources that Jesus was a historical figure that actually lived in first-century Palestine, assembled a group of followers, the teachings of whom were recorded by multiple sources and was actually put to death by Roman authorities. Given the amount of historical knowledge that exists about Jesus of Nazareth, the suggestion that the Christian tradition “re-branded” Jesus with Mithraic characteristics implies an unfathomably large conspiracy without a bit of evidence to back it up. There is no reason to believe these claims which is absolutely heretical and unhistoric!
Hardly. For those unfamiliar with the Horus story, Horus is a character in Egyptian mythology, the son of the gods Isis and Osiris. There actually appear to be multiple deities named ‘Horus’, but the one who is the son of Isis and Osiris is the one the critics claim influenced the Jesus story. For a quick and unbiased debunking of this story, go to any search engine and find a site on Egyptian mythology and read the Horus story for yourself (I’ve provided some links at the bottom of the page), or check the mythology section at your local library (go ahead, I dare you!). Acharya S’s book “The Christ Conspiracy” is the apparent source of this list, but the author provides evidentiary footnotes for only nine of the claims, and those footnotes frequently disagree with her own claims!
Here are the claims of parallels between Jesus and Horus, with my responses:
1) Horus was born of the virgin Isis-Meri on December 25th in a cave/manger with his birth being announced by a star in the East and attended by three wise men.
Let’s take this one apart and deal with each separate issue:
Isis being a virgin is, at best, a “maybe”, since there is evidence on both sides. According to most scholars, Horus’ mother was not a virgin. She was married to Osiris, and there is no reason to suppose she was abstinent after marriage. Horus was, per the story, miraculously conceived. Seth had killed and dismembered Osiris, then Isis put her husband’s dead body back together and had intercourse with it. In some versions, she used a hand-made phallus since she wasn’t able to find that part of her husband. So while it was a miraculous conception, it was not a virgin birth. There are other versions of the story in which Horus’ conception was non-sexual, but, since Isis was still married to Osiris, there’s no reason to suppose that the authors of those stories intended for her to be a virgin.
However, there are a few university-level scholars who do argue that Isis was a virgin, and my criteria is to accept such scholars as evidence for the claim. For example, it’s argued by Bob Becking (Utrech University), Pieter Willem van der Horst (Utrech University) and Karel van der Toorn (University of Amsterdam) in their book in their “Dictionary of Dieties and Demons in the Bible”.
Sometime Christ-mythers respond by saying that since Mary and Joseph were married, shouldn’t we then be concluding that Jesus wasn’t virgin-born? The difference is that the Bible clearly states that Mary and Joseph were abstinent until after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:25). We have no such declaration for Isis and Osiris.
Christ-mythers sometimes point to the inscription at Abydos, in which the word “hwn.t” is used to describe her. “Hwn.t” can mean “virgin”, but it can also mean “maiden” or “young woman”. It may imply virginity, but if it were used in the description of a woman who is married and/or has a child, then virginity wouldn’t be assumed. In the Abydos inscription, we see that Isis is the mother of Horus, so the logical assumption here is that, in this case, it’s not calling her a virgin. Yet Christ-mythers instead assume that it’s calling her a “virgin mother”. To draw a comparison, suppose you were to see a girl who was twelve years old. Would you assume she was a virgin? Probably. But suppose you were to see a twelve-year-old girl who had a baby. Would you then conclude that she wasn’t a virgin, or would you conclude that she was a virgin mother? The former, obviously, but what Christ-mythers are doing here is the equivalent of the latter.
Horus was given three different birthdates in mythology, one of which does correspond to December 25th. But since Jesus wasn’t, per the evidence, born on 12/25, this isn’t a parallel. Also, there’s no evidence that this date was applied to Horus in pre-Christian times.
“Meri” (technically “Mr-ee”) is the Egyptian word for “beloved” and was apparently applied to Isis prior to Jesus’ time, as a title, not as part of her name. But since there were probably thousands of women between Horus’ time and Jesus’ with a name or title that was a variation on “Mary”, there’s no real reason to suppose that Jesus’ mother was named after Isis in particular. Even if, hypothetically, the Gospel authors themselves fabricated Jesus’ mother and decided to name her “Mary”, it’s far more likely that they named her after other women from around their time than it is that they named her after “Isis-Meri”.
Horus was born in a swamp, not a cave/manger. Acharya’s footnotes for this point only make the claim that Jesus was born in a cave, and say nothing about Horus being born in one.
Horus’ birth was not announced by a star in the east. Some Christ-mythers claim that the “star in the east” is Sirius, but Sirius is not “in the east” in any sense. No stars can reside exclusively in the east or west, due to the rotation of the Earth.
There were no “three wise men” at Horus’ birth, or at Jesus’ for that matter (the Bible never gives the number of wise men, and they showed up at Jesus’ home, not at the manger, probably when Jesus was a year or two old).
Acharya’s source for the last two claims appears to be Massey, who says “the Star in the East that arose to announce the birth of the babe (Jesus) was Orion, which is therefore called the star of Horus. That was once the star of the three kings; for the ‘three kings’ is still a name of three stars in Orion’s belt . . . ” Massey’s apparently getting mixed up, and then the critics are misinterpreting it. Orion is not a star, but a constellation, of which there are three stars in a row making up the belt of Orion. However, there is no evidence that these three stars were called the “Three Kings” prior to Jesus’ time, nor even prior to the 17th century, for that matter.
I’ve seen some Christ-mythers claim that the three stars in Orion’s belt “follow” the star Sirius across the sky at night, thus corresponding to the three wise men following the star in the east. The problem is that stars move east to west, and Sirius is EAST of Orion’s belt. Thus they don’t follow Sirius across the sky, but move AHEAD of it.
And even if there is a specific star called ‘the star of Horus’, there’s no legend stating that it announced Horus’ birth (as the critics are claiming) or that the three stars in Orion’s belt attended Horus’ birth in any way.
2) His earthly father was named “Seb” (“Joseph”).
First of all, there is no parallel between the Egyptian name “Seb” and the Hebrew name “Joseph”, other than the fact that they’re common names. Also, Seb was Osiris’ father, not Horus’.
3) He was of royal descent.
This one’s true! But it’s not really a comparison to Jesus. When followers speak of Jesus being of ‘royal descent’, they usually mean His being a descendent of King David, an earthly king. Horus was, according to the myth, descended from heavenly royalty (as Jesus was), being the son of the main god.
4) At age 12, he was a child teacher in the Temple, and at 30, he was baptized, having disappeared for 18 years.
He never taught in any temple and was never baptized. Also, Jesus didn’t ‘disappear’ in the years between His teaching in the temple and baptism. He worked humbly as a carpenter.
5) Horus was baptized in the river Eridanus or Iarutana (Jordan) by “Anup the Baptizer” (“John the Baptist”), who was decapitated.
Again, Horus was never baptized. There is no “Anup the Baptizer” in the story.
6) He had 12 disciples, two of whom were his “witnesses” and were named “Anup” and “Aan” (the two “Johns”).
Horus had four disciples (called ‘Heru-Shemsu’). There’s another reference to sixteen followers, and a group of followers called ‘mesnui’ (blacksmiths) who join Horus in battle but are never numbered. But there’s no reference to twelve followers or any of them being named “Anup” or “Aan”.
7) He performed miracles, exorcised demons and raised El-Azarus (“El-Osiris”), from the dead.
He did perform miracles, but he never exorcised demons or raised his father from the dead. There is a version of the story in which Osiris is resurrected, but it happens prior to Horus’ birth. Also, Osiris is never referred to as ‘El-Azarus’ or ‘El-Osiris’ (clearly an attempt to make his name more closely resemble the Bible’s “Lazarus”).
8) Horus walked on water.
No, he did not.
9) His personal epithet was “Iusa,” the “ever-becoming son” of “Ptah,” the “Father.” He was thus called “Holy Child.”
Horus was never referred to as “Iusa” (nor was anyone in Egyptian history – the word does not exist) or “Holy Child”.
10) He delivered a “Sermon on the Mount” and his followers recounted the “Sayings of Iusa.”
Horus never delivered such a sermon, and, as pointed out above, he was never referred to as “Iusa”.
11) Horus was transfigured on the Mount.
No, he was not.
12) He was crucified between two thieves, buried for three days in a tomb, and resurrected.
Horus was never crucified (crucifixion didn’t exist until around 600 BC, long after the stories of Horus). There’s an unofficial story in which he dies and is cast in pieces into the water, then later fished out by a crocodile at Isis’ request.
This unofficial story is the only one in which he dies at all.
As for resurrected, this one is at best a “maybe”. The source for this claim is the Metternich Stela (aka the Magical Stela), which dates to the 4th century B.C. It describes Horus while hiding in a marsh with his mother, Isis, being bitten by a poisonous scorpion. Isis cries out for help. In the Budge translation of the stela, it says “In answer to these words Thoth, turning to Isis and Nephthys, bade them to fear not, and to have no anxiety about Horus, “For,” said he, “I have come from heaven to heal the child for his mother.” He then pointed out that Horus was under protection as the Dweller in his Disk (Aten), the Great Dwarf, the Mighty Ram, the Great Hawk, the Holy Beetle, the Hidden Body, the Divine Bennu, etc., and proceeded to utter the great spell which restored Horus to life.”
While this translation suggests a resurrection, the problem is that other sources disagree with it, saying that the stela claims that Horus was merely sickened, then cured. Even Budge’s translation says that Thoth came to “heal the child”, and you don’t heal a corpse. The website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), which is the museum where the stela is currently located, says the following about the inscription: “Isis speaks and recounts that while she and Horus were still hiding in the marshes, the child became ill. In her despair, she cried for help to the “Boat of Eternity” (the sun boat in which the god travels over the sky), and the sun disk stopped opposite her and did not move from his place. Thoth was sent from the sun boat to help Isis and cured Horus by reciting a catalogue of spells.” (source). Other sources also agree that the Stela says “sickened, then cured” rather than “killed, then resurrected”, such as this one.
13) He was also the “Way, the Truth, the Light,” “Messiah,” “God’s Anointed Son,” the “Son of Man,” the “Good Shepherd,” the “Lamb of God,” the “Word made flesh,” the “Word of Truth,” etc.
The only titles Horus is given are “Great God”, “Chief of the Powers”, “Master of Heaven”, and “Avenger of His Father”. None of the above titles are in any Egyptian mythology.
14) He was “the Fisher” and was associated with the Fish (“Ichthys”), Lamb and Lion.
He was never referred to as “the fisher”, and there are no lamb or lion in any of the stories. Acharya S.’s footnotes on this claim only show an association with fish (which is that Horus WAS a fish, unlike Jesus), with no evidence of his being called ‘the fisher’ or having any association with a lamb or lion.
15) He came to fulfill the Law.
There was no “law” he was supposed to fulfill.
16) Horus was called “the KRST,” or “Anointed One.”
He was never referred to by either of these titles. “Krst”, in Egyptian, means “burial”, by the way. It wasn’t a title.
17) Like Jesus, “Horus was supposed to reign one thousand years.”
No mention of this in Egyptian mythology.
Egyptian Book of the Dead (note: I’ve had several Christ-mythers tell me that the parallels can all be found in the Book of the Dead. I’ve already read all of the portions of the Book of the Dead that relate to Horus, and the parallels are not there. I think the people who tell me this a) haven’t read it themselves, b) assume I haven’t read it and c) assume I’m too lazy to bother to read it for myself.)
Encyclopedia Mythica: Horus
Egyptian Mythology: Horus
Tektonics: Horus, Isis, Osiris