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What Are the Parallels Between Jesus and the “Divine Men” of the Ancient World? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Mythicists claim that the stories about Jesus were merely copied from other pagan myths circulating around the Roman Empire in the first century. If this is true, it does cast some doubt on the uniqueness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and it certainly makes one wonder if all the stories about Jesus were borrowed from other sources.

In order to discuss this claim, I will call to the stand one Bart Ehrman, a man who is no friend to Christianity. Ehrman was interviewed by Ben Witherington in a seven-part series last summer after Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist?, was published.

In part 3, Ehrman cited the work of Jonathan Smith who claimed that there were no unambiguous accounts of dying and rising gods in the ancient world.  Witherington follows up with another question about the resurrection of Jesus:

In what way is the Jewish notion of a resurrection a different idea than either the fertility crop cycle idea, or what is sometimes said about pagan deities that either disappear or die?

Ehrman answers:

One of the reasons for thinking that the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection is not exactly like what you can find in pagan myths about their gods is that it is solidly rooted in Jewish apocalyptic beliefs of the first century. This should come as no surprise, since Jesus and his followers were not pagans with pagan views of the divine realm, but first-century apocalyptically minded Jews.

In some pagan circles, there was a belief in fertility gods, who would spend some time in the underworld and some time in this world, alternating year after year. These gods were closely connected to the crops: they (both the crops and the gods connected with them) die in the winter and come back to life in the Spring. And they do that year after year.

That obviously is not like the early Christian belief in Jesus, who does not go into the underworld then return to this world year after year. Instead, Jesus was believed to have gone to the underworld for three days and then to have been raised from the dead and exalted to heaven where he is to stay until he returns. This is not rooted in pagan mythology, but in apocalyptic theology.

After reading through Ehrman’s answers and checking other sources, here is my conclusion on the alleged parallel accounts of “divine men” of the ancient world.  There are similarities to the accounts of Jesus, but they are on the surface, and somewhat trivial.  Given the tendencies of people throughout history to repeat archetypes and themes in their stories, it is not surprising that we would find some of these repeated in the stories about Jesus.

When we start to dig deeper into the Jesus stories and try to find parallels in ancient accounts, we find that the similarities end.  In particular, the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus are both unique in ancient history.  There just aren’t other pagan accounts that mirror these important aspects of the Jesus narratives.

Given that the evidence does not support the mythicist contention that the Jesus stories were completely cribbed, I submit that  there is no good reason to doubt the historicity of the person of Jesus based on alleged parallel accounts.  Bart Ehrman and I can agree on this point.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.jiang.37 Tony Jiang

    Using the same logic and “evidence” for the historicity of Jesus, the same material and arguments can make a solid case for the historical existence of the Wizard of Oz.
    Fact 1: Independent Testimony: The oldest account comes from Frank and collaborative evidence from Noel, Florance, Edward and John. Frank gives the story of when the twister hits the Mid-West, but from the other four we can extract that it actually hit Kansas. We can verify that tornadoes hit Kansas and have done so for many centuries.
    Fact 2: The Wicked Witch of the East Actually Died: This has been confirmed by five chiropractors, who all agree that a house falling from the sky at great heights could kill her. The Fifth chiropractor, unlike the previous four, did not state she would die as a matter-of-fact but is sure the most likely scenario would result with death.
    Fact 3: The Radical Change in the Munchkin Behavior: The Munchkins were terrified on the Wicked Witch of the East. However, after the house fell on the wicked witch, the Munchkins were happy and singing and actually proclaiming that she did in fact die. They would not do any of this unless the Wicked Witch of the East actually died, otherwise she would come about and hurt them. No other explanation can explain a paradign change of this magnitude.
    Fact 4: The Ruby Slippers: Dorothy actually had the Ruby slippers, which would be impossible unless the Wicked Witch of the East was actually dead. Dorothy actually having the Ruby Slippers has been independently verified by both the Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West. These two are constantly at odds with each other, and they would not come together in agreement if the statement that Dorothy had the slippers was not true.
    Fact 5: The Yellow Brick Road: If the Yellow Brick Road did not exist, there would be no way for Dorothy to get to the Emerald City from the Munchkin Land. Since we know that she did make it to the Emerald City, then it is only logical that the Yellow Brick Road did exist. This has been verified through the testaments of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion who each claim to also be on the Yellow Brick Road.
    Bonus: The Munchkin Land Factor: if the Wicked Witch was not dead, the flying monkeys could have verified that by coming in to investigate if she was dead or not at any time. Since they didn’t anbelieved she was in fact dead, there is no reason to believe that they would have lied about it.

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