by Bill Nugent
A common line of attack against Christianity is to say that the early church “borrowed” the story of the resurrection of Christ from ancient mystery religions or other ancient cults. In this article I will expose the absurdity of this claim.
The mystery religions of the ancient Greco-Roman world were based on myths that were stories of alleged battles and other activities among the gods. The mystery religions developed elaborate rituals to celebrate or reenact the content of the myths.
The written source material of the mystery religions is very sketchy and many myths are retold in differing versions. Most of the relevant source materials on the mystery religions are dated after 200 AD which is more than a century after the New Testament was written.
The attack on Christianity comes from liberal scholars who examine the source material (dated in the 200s AD) and assume that the mystery religions held to those doctrines in the first century. These scholars then choose a version of a myth that has some vague parallel with the resurrection of Christ and then boldly claim that Christianity got the resurrection story from the mystery religion! This tactic, when cloaked in sophisticated scholarly jargon can have a devastating impact on young college students who respect the instructors of comparative religion classes.
The “scholarship” however is mere guesswork and broad assumptions. Their conclusions are based on the flimsiest of evidence. It’s another case of educated men making educated guesses.
Let’s look at what would be perhaps the closest pagan parallel to the resurrection. It is a myth associated with the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris. (This myth actually comes from a time before the cult of Isis was changed into a mystery religion.) In this myth Osiris is murdered by his brother who puts Osiris’s body in a coffin and sinks it in the Nile River. Osiris’s wife, Isis, finds the body and returns it to Egypt. Osiris’s brother then cuts Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces and scatters them. Isis then searches for the parts of the body and recovers them and places them in the Nile and Osiris comes back to life.
If the above myth is the closest pagan parallel to the New Testament account of the resurrection of Christ you can imagine that other myths are even more tenuous. To say that the early Christians got the resurrection story from the Osiris myth is a stretch of monstrous proportions. Some versions of the Osiris story don’t even have him coming back to life. By some accounts he simply became king of the underworld.
Many liberal scholars retell ancient mystery religion myths using Christian terminology such as referring to Osiris’ body being placed in the Nile as a “baptism.” All of this stretching of the actual content of the myths and reading between the lines by liberal scholars seems to suggest that they approach this work with a strong preexisting bias against Christianity.
It is beyond the scope of this short article to give anything approaching a full rebuttal to the blasphemous allegation that mystery religions are precursors of Christianity. Much of my source material came from an article titled Was the New Testament Influenced By Pagan Religions? by Dr. Ronald Nash; Christian Research Journal, Winter 1994 8-15 (available online atwww.equip.org/free/DB109.htm. I recommend the above article for further study. I also recommend Dr. Nash’s book The Gospel and the Greeks which counters this attack against Christianity in a fuller, more technical way.
The resurrection of Christ was foretold by the Old Testament prophets centuries before it occurred. The Old Testament prophesies were written long before most or perhaps all pagan mystery religion myths were composed. The resurrection of Christ stands as a true historical account that was both foretold by the prophets and written down by eyewitnesses.