“Nothing in Christianity is original” is one of the most commonly used lines of many critics today. In the recent past, many scholars believed that the central claims of Christianity were plagiarized from Greco-Roman mystery religions. Jesus was considered another “dying and rising” god in the tradition of Osiris, Mithras, Adonis, and Dionysus. While this theory has experienced a surprising resurgence on the Internet and in popular books, it faces near universal rejection by contemporary scholars. Here’s why.
While parallels between Jesus and the mystery religions may appear striking on the surface, they collapse under scrutiny. Osiris, for instance, is considered by many to be a dying and rising god from ancient Egypt. According to the myth, Osiris was killed by Seth and resuscitated by Isis. But rather than returning to the world in a resurrected body, Osiris became king of the underworld—hardly a parallel to the historical resurrection of Jesus. This is why Paul Rhodes Eddy and Greg Boyd, authors of The Jesus Legend, conclude that “the differences between Christianity and the mystery religions are far more profound than any similarities. While there certainly are parallel terms used in early Christianity and the mystery religions, there is little evidence for parallel concepts.”*1
Unlike the historical Jesus, there is no evidence for the reliability of any of the alleged parallel stories in the mystery religions. Jesus of Nazareth ate, slept, performed miracles, died, and returned to life. These accounts are supported by a reliable historical record. In contrast, the dying and rising gods of the mystery religions were timeless myths repeated annually with the changing seasons.
The most recent scholarly treatise on dying and rising gods was written by T. N. D. Mettinger, professor at Lund University. In The Riddle of Resurrection, Mettinger grants the existence of the myths of dying and rising gods in the ancient world, which, he admits, is a minority view. Yet his conclusion puts the nail in the coffin of the copycat theory:
“There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.”*2
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
1. Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 142.2. T. N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 2001), 221.
–Taken from More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell