I usually leave Easter service on a high. There’s nothing like it. It’s a rousing celebration of resurrection hope. But one Easter a few years ago, my wife showed me something after church that totally rained on my parade. Someone had posted a video on social media that claimed Christianity had “plagiarized” the resurrection from pagan mythology. It proposed that the idea of Jesus’ resurrection was stolen from the many pagan myths of dying and rising gods. The video presented itself as a scandalous new discovery revealing that the Christian faith was based on a hoax.

My joy turned to anger. Not because my faith was in a shambles. Not because I felt betrayed by the Church which had deceived me with what it knew to be a lie, a fable.

No, I was angry because this “bombshell discovery” now making the rounds on social media wasn’t new at all. The objection was first raised in the 1890’s! Even back then it failed to gain much traction. By the 1940’s, after scholars had a chance to thoroughly analyze all the evidence, it had been completely refuted.

No major scholar today takes this argument seriously.

And yet, it keeps making the rounds. In a debate a few years ago with William Lane Craig, another well-known scholar, Lawrence Krauss, a brilliant theoretical physicist and outspoken atheist, made this claim again. He specifically pointed to the Egyptian myth of Osiris, which is often cited as a good example of these dying and rising god myths which influenced Christianity.

As often happens when a scholar steps outside of their area of expertise, they make claims they have no special knowledge or authority to make and end up misleading people with outright misinformation. Just because someone has expertise in one area doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t an amateur in another. Like this social media post, they present their claim as legitimate scholarship when it isn’t even close.

Those scholars who do have expertise in the resurrection, who’ve devoted their entire lives to studying it, have arrived at very different conclusions.

Here’s a quick rundown of the facts: first, in most cases (with the possible exception of only three to five) these parallels to the resurrection post-date Christianity, meaning that, if anything, they borrowed from—or “plagiarized”—the Christian story, not the other way around.

Second, these supposed parallels turn out not to be all that parallel. In the most popular version of the oft-cited Osiris parallel, the goddess Isis takes pity on Osiris after he is killed by his brother, who chopped his body into fourteen pieces and then scattered them around the world. She goes in search of his body parts and, finding only thirteen of them, gives him a proper burial. Subsequently, Osiris is given the status of a god in the netherworld—hardly a parallel to Jesus’ resurrection!

Third, these myths are usually connected with the fertility cult of ancient paganism which, using the metaphor of physical life, is focused on the death and rebirth cycle of nature, not humanity. They’re not at all about the resurrection of a human being, but about the change of seasons and the hope for a rich and fruitful harvest. That’s why the god in question dies and “rises” at the same time every year, most often in conjunction with the harvest.

Fourth, and most decisively, these stories are always and everywhere presented as tales. No one actually thinks someone has truly come back from the dead. Indeed, no one telling or hearing these stories would ever stake their life on such a claim. This is in stunning contrast to the very real historical claim at the core of Christian faith that a particular, well-known person has actually come back from the dead; and to the eyewitnesses of this event, who were willing to give their lives for the truth of this claim.

In sum, the nearly universal consensus among scholars is that these not-so-analogous “parallels,” most of which are too late to have influenced the Christian story anyway, are merely myths, usually tied to pagan fertility rites, that have nothing to do with the actual, historical resurrection of a human being.

No one would have mistaken them to be anything else.

If, scholars agree, Jesus’ followers were even aware of them—which is highly doubtful—these myths wouldn’t be capable of generating the idea that a real person actually rose from the dead.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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