Borrowing from Ancient Mysteries?

Wendell Krossa

Here is a response from an Evangelical to the argument that Christianity borrowed from surrounding mythology.

“Even secular scholars have rejected the idea of Christianity borrowing from the ancient mysteries.  The well-respected Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard writes in Theories of Primitive Religion that The evidence for this theory… is negligible.

“The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity.  So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament (resurrection) on mythology, not the reverse.  The only known account of a god surviving death that predates Christianity is the Egyptian cult god Osiris.

“In this myth, Osiris is cut into fourteen pieces, scattered around Egypt, then reassembled and brought back to life by the goddess Isis.  However, Osiris does not actually come back to physical life but becomes a member of a shadowy underworld… This is far different than Jesus’ resurrection account where he was the gloriously risen Prince of life who was seen by others on earth before his ascension into heaven. –Dr. Norman Geisler.”

Bob Brinsmead

As for the Dying and Rising gods:  This is a bit like the Documentary Hypothesis – in more conservative circles one heard it said quite often that the DH is now dead – but as Friedman says and has quite well demonstrated, it is not dead at all, but with time it has been refined and strengthened.  It is the same with the debate over dying and rising gods.  A scholar by the name of Mark S. Smith is credited with demolishing this theme in an essay in 1998, which is often cited for the fact.  It seems that his argument is based on dissimilarity of these old myths and the Christian myth.  Of course there is dissimilarity, as the old myth of Osiris was reset in culture, after culture, and consequently underwent re-shaping.  Anyhow, the whole question is revisited by Tryggve N.D. Mettinger’s, The Riddle of Resurrection: ‘Dying and Rising Gods’ in the Ancient Near East.  This published book puts the whole debate beyond question in my mind – he demonstrates that the idea of dying and rising gods saturated that culture and permeated its religious thought.

The proposal that Christians did not borrow from pagan myths is periled – a very good book on the subject is by a Canadian Episcopalian, Tom Harpur.  He not only acknowledges the pagan borrowings but takes the interesting view that these pagan mysteries were expressing universal truths, or at least one’s struggling for expression. He does not use the evidence of the borrowings as a big stick to beat up on the Christian faith, but shows there has been a progressive development of basic themes since ancient times down to the time of Christ.  This is a thoughtful book – almost an apologia for the incorporation of ancient myths into Christian religion and ritual.