Traitor? No. Lover of Christ? Yes. Saved by Grace? Doubtful.

(THIS WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED BY MYSELF IN JUNE OF 2007 AND IS AN IMPORT FROM MY OLD BLOG)

My views have changed a bit on Dr. Beckwith over the years since the original post seen below. Three posts summing up some doctrinal issues Protestants have with Catholicism are as follows:

In other words, Dr. Beckwith has traveled so far into Catholic doctrine that I fear he is not saved by Calvary’s Cross.

I have slightly edited this import due to sites I originally got quotes from going defunct/under. Compared to the original post the extended quotes still have the same Beckwith quote in them, just some addition thoughts added.


IMPORT


From Catholic to Evangelical, to Catholic Again

On May 5th (2007), Francis Beckwith resigned as President of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the ETS in short order accepted this resignation.

Accepting members of the ETS:

  • C. Hassell Bullock, President-Elect (Wheaton College),
  • Bruce A. Ware, Vice-President (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary),
  • Edwin M. Yamauchi, At-large member (Miami University),
  • Craig A. Blaising, At-large member (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  • Gregory K. Beale, At-large member (Wheaton College),
  • David M. Howard, Jr., At-large member (Bethel Seminary),
  • James A. Borland, Secretary-Treasurer (Liberty University),
  • Andreas J. Köstenberger, JETS Editor (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary).

Besides Beckwith, a few others have recently joined the Catholic Church from Protestant backgrounds; some worth mentioning are Dr. Robert Koons, J. Budziszewski, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Scott Hahn, as well as Richard John Neuhaus (editor of First Things, a Catholic theological and philosophical journal).

Before I get into this whole thing I want to say that I am a huge, I mean huge, Beckwith fan. I have read every book he has edited and authored, as well as articles, and audio CD/DVD. My favorite books being:

  • Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air, co-authored by Greg Koukl;
  • Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights;
  • Are You politically Correct? Debating America’s Cultural Standards;
  • Do the Right Thing: A Philosophical Dialogue on the Moral and Social Issues of Our Time;
  • To Everyone and Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview.

Some of the very fun and enjoyable CD’s and DVD have been:

  • Relativism (Summit Ministries);
  • The Pluralist game (Summit);
  • Political Correctness (Summit);
  • Responding to Relativism (Stand to Reason Ministries – DVD).

I will probably continue to read all his works and follow his career, a career I hope to make a splash into at some point (that is, a professor). I also hope Summit Ministries keeps him on as a guest lecturer for the Colorado summer camp. My sons are getting close to the age of going and I would love to have Beckwith’s influence as one of many other godly men and women that take time out their schedules to inculcate truth into these young men and women, namely my two sons.

There’s my intro, take it or leave it. Remember that Luther wanted to “fix” the Church originally… not wanting to leave it (Luther did escape a waiting death sentence and died of old age… others weren’t so fortunate). BUT, there are a few principles both he and us “Protestors” have taken an unspoken oath to die for… peaceably. And Luther and others did die for those principles. That being said, all Christians are under assault not only by culture, but also by Islamo-Fascism. So if God has chosen to put Beckwith into a Church that desperately needs to realign with the conservative traditions that all of our faiths are founded on… who am I to get in the way of a larger and greater plan? I seem to get in the way of the plans He has for even my wife and I let alone a stalwart like Beckwith bringing sound thinking to Catholic seminaries and lay people. For instance, I will highlight just a small snippet of what Beckwith said in this interview:

You spent 32 years in the evangelical world. What could Catholics learn from evangelicals?

I learned plenty, and for that reason I do not believe I ceased to be an evangelical when I returned to the Church. What I ceased to be was a Protestant. For I believe, as Pope Benedict has preached, that the Church itself needs to nurture within it an evangelical spirit. There are, as we know, too many Catholics whose faith needs to be renewed and emboldened.

There is much that I learned as a Protestant evangelical that has left an indelible mark on me and formed the person I am today. For that reason, it accompanies me back to the Church.

For instance, because Protestant evangelicals accept much of the Great Tradition that Catholics take for granted — such as the Catholic creeds and the inspiration of Scripture — but without recourse to the Church’s authority, they have produced important and significant works in systematic theology and philosophical theology.

Catholics would do well to plumb these works, since in them Protestant evangelicals often provide the biblical and philosophical scaffolding that influenced the Church Fathers that developed the catholic creeds as well as the Church’s understanding of the Bible as God’s Word.

But these evangelicals do so by using contemporary language and addressing contemporary concerns. This will help Catholics understand the reasoning behind the classical doctrines.

In terms of expository preaching, as well as teaching the laity, Protestant evangelicals are without peers in the Christian world.

For instance, it is not unusual for evangelical churches to host major conferences on theological issues in which leading scholars address lay audiences in order to equip them to share their faith with their neighbors, friends, etc. Works by evangelical philosophers and theologians such as [J.P.] Moreland, [Paul] Copan, and William Lane Craig, should be in the library of any serious Catholic who wants to be equipped to respond to contemporary challenges to the Christian faith.

I read much of the works of Catholic philosophers, like Peter Kreeft and others. I would love to meet a new generation of Catholics that read evangelical authors like the ones mentioned above. Another question posed to Beckwith will follow a post by Beckwith from his blog. The below is a small snippet of what will soon be a flood of explanations and kindly debates as to why Dr. Beckwith left the “Protestors” to join the Catholic Church. Here is an excerpt from behind his reasoning from REFORMATION 21:

I have been asked my opinion both on this blog and in other conversations about the recent announcement by Frank Beckwith.

Dr. Francis Beckwith’s conversion, better yet, reversion to Rome was very interesting to me. For those of you who don’t know, Francis Beckwith is a well-known scholar, professor, and president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He resigned his position as president of ETS a few months ago when he declared that he had become a communicant in the Roman Catholic Church, the religion of his childhood.

In the letter explaining his return to the Roman Church Dr. Beckwith writes:

“During the last week of March 2007, after much prayer, counsel and consideration, my wife and I decided to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. My wife, a baptized Presbyterian, is going through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This will culminate with her receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. For me, because I had received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation all before the age of 14, I need only go to confession, request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church, and receive absolution.”

I am saddened by the language of Dr. Beckwith’s letter. This goes to show that smart men can make large errors. How sad it is for a man who once affirmed Sola Scriptura to now embrace a religious system that rejects the sole sufficiency and unique authority of the Bible. What is also tragic is that he has rejected Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and man and now seeks forgiveness of sins and “absolution” from the Roman Church.

Further on in his letter Beckwith writes:

“The past four months have moved quickly for me and my wife. As you probably know, my work in philosophy, ethics, and theology has always been Catholic friendly, but I would have never predicted that I would return to the Church, for there seemed to me too many theological and ecclesiastical issues that appeared insurmountable. However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it. Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”

Well, we could argue all day about whether or not Rome is a more faithful interpreter of the early church fathers. For now I will say that it is my conviction that the Protestant Reformers were far more faithful to the likes of Athanasius and Augustine than were leaders of the Roman Church during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, what is most important is that the Protestant Reformers were faithful to the Scriptures…..

The National Catholic Register (now found at Catholic Education Resource Center) interviewed Dr. Beckwith recently and they got to the nitty gritty of the matter. By the way, in case someone asks after reading this interview, I am a “First Things” evangelical! Here is the question posed followed by Beckwith’s response:

  • “What led you back to the Church?”

Dr. Beckwith’s partial answer:

Until a few weeks ago, Francis Beckwith was president of the Evangelical Theological Society, an association of 4,300 Protestant theologians. Now he has returned to the Church of his baptism.

[….]

There isn’t just one reason. One reason alone isn’t enough. That’s like someone asking, “Why do you love your wife?” There are 15 different reasons. It’s the whole package.

My nephew asking me to be his sponsor for his May 13 confirmation merely sped up what I had intended to do in November after my term as ETS president had ended.

I didn’t fully realize it until the beginning of 2007 that I had assimilated much of a Catholic understanding of faith and reason, the nature of the human person, as well as the progress of dogma.

Looking back, the beginning of my return to the Church, though I didn’t realize it at the time, probably occurred at a conference on John Paul II and Philosophy at Boston College in February 2006.

Several months earlier I had published a small essay in the magazine Touchstone: “Vatican Bible School: What John Paul II Can Teach Evangelicals.” I incorporated portions of that essay in my BC paper in which I made a case for why anti-creedal Protestants hold to an incoherent point of view on faith, reason, and the nature of the Christian university.

The first question from the audience came from Laura Garcia, a BC philosophy professor, who is a Catholic and former evangelical Protestant.

She asked, “Why aren’t you a Catholic?”

The question took me by surprise.

I gave her an answer — if I remember correctly — that appealed to the doctrines of the Reformation as making all the difference to me. I also tried to account for the church’s continuity as being connected to the reformers and their progeny as well as their predecessors in the Catholic Church. In this way, I could defend the creeds as Spirit-directed without conceding the present authority of Rome on these matters.

That episode at Boston College, nevertheless, got me thinking.

So, I read Truth and Tolerance by Ratzinger and portions of his Introduction to Christianity. Out of curiosity, I picked up a book I saw while browsing the stacks at a local bookstore: David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born-Again Catholic.

I was not entirely convinced by all his arguments, but he did raise some issues about the Church Fathers and the Catholic doctrines of the Eucharist and infant baptism that led me to more scholarly sources.

In mid-November I was elected president of ETS while still embracing Reformation theology on the four key issues I just mentioned.

In early January 2007, I began reading the Early Church Fathers and the Catechism, focusing on the doctrines that I thought were key.

I also read Mark Noll’s book, Is the Reformation Over?

This led me to read the “Joint Declaration on Justification” by Lutheran and Catholic scholars. While consulting these sources, I read portions of a book by my friends Norm Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences. It is a fair-minded book.

But some of the points that Norm and Ralph made really shook me up and were instrumental in facilitating my return to the Church.

What was their take on the issue you had just read about, justification?

For example, in their section on salvation, they write: “Although the forensic aspect of justification stressed by Reformation theology is scarcely found prior to the Reformation, there is continuity between medieval Catholicism and the Reformers” (103).

Then when I read the Fathers, those closest to the Apostles, the Reformation doctrine was just not there.

To be sure, salvation by grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there. And to be sure, our works apart from God’s grace was decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Wednesday,” to quote a famous Gospel song, but that it was the grace of God working through me as I acquiesced to God’s spirit to allow his grace to shape and mold my character so that I may be conformed to the image of Christ. I also found it in the Catechism.

There was an aesthetic aspect to this well: The Catholic view of justification elegantly tied together James and Paul and the teachings of Jesus that put a premium on a believer’s faithful practice of Christian charity.

Catholicism does not teach “works righteousness.” It teaches faith in action as a manifestation of God’s grace in one’s life. That’s why Abraham’s faith results in righteousness only when he attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.

Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.

For example, Trent talks about the four causes of justification, which correspond somewhat to Aristotle’s four causes. None of these causes is the work of the individual Christian. For, according to Trent, God’s grace does all the work. However, Trent does condemn “faith alone,” but what it means is mere intellectual assent without allowing God’s grace to be manifested in one’s actions and communion with the Church. This is why Trent also condemns justification by works.

I am convinced that the typical “Council of Trent” rant found on anti-Catholic websites is the Protestant equivalent of the secular urban legend that everyone prior to Columbus believed in a flat earth.

In another interview Dr. Beckwith gives some more insight into his decision to join the Catholic Church. I, of course, would disagree with some of the points Noll’s makes, but I enjoyed the response by Beckwith:

(I CANNOT FIND THIS QUOTE ANYWHERE BUT MY PRESERVATION OF IT, AS, IGNATIUS INSIGHTS IS GONE)

IgnatiusInsight.com: You’ve mentioned, in past interviews, that Dr. Mark Noll’s book, Is The Reformation Over? (Baker, 2005), was a helpful work for you to read. Do you agree with Noll’s assessment that “the central difference that continues to separate evangelicals and Catholics is not Scripture, justification by faith, the pope, Mary, the sacraments, or clerical celibacy … but the nature of the church”? How significant is the issue of ecclesiology in current and ongoing Catholic-Evangelical dialogue?

Dr. Beckwith: I partly agree with Noll. I think he is right that logically that once the authority question is answered, the other issues that he mentions fall into place. However, practically, the process is more organic, as it was in my case. Once I saw that the Catholic view of justification could be defended biblically and historically, and that the sacraments, including a non-symbolic understanding of the Eucharist, have their roots deep in Christian history prior to the fixation of the biblical canon, the authority issue fell into place.

Something else concerning authority factored into my internal deliberations as well. But I do not think I can conjure up the words to properly express it. So, I will just rely on an elegant insight offered in First Things by a recent Catholic convert, R. R. Reno, which perfectly echoes my own sentiments: “In the end, my decision to leave the Episcopal Church did not happen because I had changed my mind about any particular point of theology or ecclesiology. Nor did it represent a sudden realization that the arguments for staying put are specious. What changed was the way in which I had come to hold my ideas and use my arguments. In order to escape the insanity of my slide into self-guidance, I put myself up for reception into the Catholic Church as one might put oneself up for adoption. A man can no more guide his spiritual life by his own ideas than a child can raise himself on the strength of his native potential.”

I hope to write a book about my journey in the next year. There are a lot of people who are clamoring for my reasons and what went into my decision. This is why I have consented to several of these interviews, since they give me a chance to provide, however superficially, the reasons for my decision.

But given my status in the Evangelical world, I think a more detailed memoir of my pilgrimage is needed. It will not be a polemical work. What it will be is a narrative of my own reflections and what led my wife and me to first consider and then choose to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.

One of the points that I want to make clear in the book is that my reception into the Catholic Church has not changed my vocation as a Christian philosopher. I will continue to work on projects that offer to the Christian and secular worlds reasons for the Christian faith and the moral and social implications that follow from it. In that sense, there has always been a catholicity about my work. I do not anticipate that changing.

Another article worth reading, if only for the Hulk Hogan connection, is one in the Washington Post. Mainly the article points to a generalization of Beckwith’s points when it wrote that “Beckwith said his decision reflects how dramatically the divisions between evangelicals and Catholics have narrowed in recent decades, as they have stood shoulder to shoulder on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and school vouchers.”

Untill some of the big-boys on the block hash this out, I will sit by and take notes and watch. I really think the main reason Beckwith decided to leave Protestantism is one grounded more in a subjective feeling that Evangelicals do not have a grounding in what the early Church Fathers taught, or that we somehow lack a connection to history and tradition. His “decision to leave the Evangelical church did not happen because [he] had changed [his] mind about any particular point of theology or ecclesiology,” it was more for the feeling that “a man can no more guide his spiritual life by his own ideas than a child can raise himself on the strength of his native potential.” Obviously he wasn’t part of a strong, well balanced church and felt like an orphan. That’s too bad, but does this orphanage require one to accept transubstantiation and other doctrines in order to feel “adopted?”

In the case of Dr. Beckwith it apparently did.

The “Gospel-Less Gospel” of Rob Bell

(Originally posted  Jul 27, 2010)

The original recording of this I did disappeared into the wasteland of the Internet. So I re-downloaded it into a new file. Rob Bell has his presentation of the “Gospel” put to the test of the Word of God as well as Christian historical points examined. This topic is long, but important (2hrs). Pirate Christian radio can be found here as well as a couple other sites by Chris Rosebrough:

Description below audio:

The description of the audio above:

My Vimeo account was terminated many years ago; this is a recovered audio/video from it. (Some will be many years old, as is the case with this audio.)

(The below description is from APPRISING MINISTRIES)

In this version of his Fighting for the Faith podcast from his Pirate Christian Radio apologist Chris Rosebrough does a serious and thorough deconstruction of the gospel-less gospel of Rob Bell, a popular icon in the egregiously ecumenical Emerging Church aka Emergent Church—morphing into Emergence Christianity (EC).

How refreshing to hear Rosebrough bring our attention to the critical importance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he reminds the Body of Christ that “the Gospel is not a side issue. The Gospel is at the very heart and center of Christianity; you get the Gospel wrong, you are sending yoursefl—and other people to Hell.”

With this as the necessary backdrop Rosebrough begins his program examining the “good news” of Rob Bell in the light of Holy Scripture with the following, which is actually no surprise at all to readers of Apprising Ministries:

Something seriously wrong with this guy’s teaching. I’ve been smelling smoke for years from this guy; and now well, it’s erupted into fullblown fire… I’m going to play for you the audio from this video. I’m not going to interrrupt it; I’m going to let you hear the whole thing in context, and then we’re gonna circle back and we’re gonna pull this thing apart piece by piece.

Not only are there doctrinal errors in here; there are historical errors in here, and he’s engaging in something here called deconstructionism. This is a very, very dangerous “gospel” that he’s preaching. And I am not going to back off from my assessment; I’ll tell you ahead of time, this is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not the Gospel that the Apostles preached. This is something completely different…

I am willing, at this point, to stand by my assessment; unless I hear otherwise from Rob Bell, which I seriously doubt, I’m going to basically make the charge this is not Christianity. This is a rehashed liberalism, if you would; kind of an interesting spin on liberalism, the liberal social gospel, if you would. This is seriously, seriously, dangerous and heretical stuff

Follow Chris Rosebrough on TWITTER

This show was done well after my paper was first published on Scribd and emailed to Chris. The similarities can be attributed to coincidence or me focusing Chris in on the issues at hand. My paper can be found here:

In both my paper and the audio portion of Lee Strobel added in the Pirate Christian Radio broadcast, Rob Bell’s history is shown to be way off and in line more with Gnostic scholars like Pagels and the Jesus Seminar. My paper also included Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, probably the premier historian on pre-Christ history.

Some posit that Jewish thinking on Satan is borrowed from Zoroasterian thought, however, Satan makes an appearance in the book Job. Job is a very early book… pre-dating Zoroaster’s life easily. Satan, as described there, is nothing like the evil god Ahriman, who is a dualistic equal to Ohrmazd the good god, rather than a subordinate.

There is a waay more in-depth dealing with this topic of a supposed Zoroastrian influence in Dr. Corduan’s PDF here:

Another excellent resource that responds to specific scholars on the issue is professor Edwin M. Yamauchi’s, PERSIA AND THE BIBLE, esp. chapter twelve. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Corduan’s excellent book:

Zoroastrian Influences

Scholars commonly observe that the real significance of Zoroastrianism lies in the influence it has exerted on the development of other world religions, specifically Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For example, it has been suggested that Jews picked up the concepts of Satan, angels, demons and the apocalypse (resurrection and judgment at the end of the world) during their exile in Babylonia and immediately thereafter. Notions of Zoroastrian influence were particularly popular during the early twentieth century. Even though scholarly support for them has eroded, they continue to be propagated on the popular level and in introductory textbooks.

There is nothing intrinsically pernicious about the idea that one religion may have influenced another one. A case in point lies in the origin of Islam in the life of Muhammad. We know that Muhammad came into contact with established versions of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. We know what those adherents believed for the most part, and we can show exactly how some of those beliefs showed up (and how they were modified) in the Qur’an. Thus it makes sense to think in terms of the influence that these three religions exerted on Muhammad. I have argued that we must leave plenty of room both for Muhammad’s own creativity and for the vestige of original monotheism present in Arabian culture at his time. The idea does become objectionable when the identification of a supposed influence is used to eliminate all originality (or even truth—the “genetic fallacy”) from a religious belief simply by showing that it was derived from some other source.

We can use the example of influences on Muhammad to establish criteria by which we can judge whether Zoroastrianism could have influenced Judaism. In order to conclude reasonably that such an influence occurred, the following points have to be true:

  1. Zoroastrianism must have been established in the form in which it was supposed to have influenced Judaism.
  2. There must have been sufficient opportunity for the Jews to absorb the doctrines.
  3. There must be sufficient resemblance between the Zoroastrian version of the doctrines and the biblical version to make influence a reasonable conclusion.
  4. There must be a clear indication that the influence went from Zoroastrianism to Judaism and not the other way around. This criterion is particularly incisive if there is some evidence that the beliefs in question may have been present in Judaism before the period of supposed contact with Zoroastrianism.

As it turns out, not one of these criteria supports the notion of Zoroastrian influence.

1. Zoroastrianism had a particularly tough time getting established in Per­sia. Even the kings we know as Zoroastrians wor­shiped Ahura Mazda along with other gods. All these kings ruled at a time later than the period of the exile. Cyrus, who sent the Jews back to their own land, was not Zoroastrian. If Zoroas­trianism had influenced Is­rael at this time, then the Jews must have been more open to the message of Zoroaster than the Persians themselves were.

2. The kind of intimate contact necessary for assimilation of foreign beliefs cannot be demonstrated for the Jews in the mainstream of biblical Judaism. As stated above, Persia did not become Zoroastrian until after the exile. So the influences (if any) must have come much more indirectly. An interesting sidelight to this discussion is that the ten northern tribes were indeed transported by the Assyrians to the region roughly identical with Media, the sphere of Zoroaster’s activity. But the northern tribes had no concrete influence on the development of Judaism (in fact, they basically vanished). It would be far more likely that their presence in Media might have influenced subsequent thought there, but we have no evidence for that hypothesis either.

3. By and large, the supposed resemblances between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are superficial at best. Beyond the idea that Jewish biblical writings show evidence of Satan, angels and apocalypse, there is very little similarity in the details. It must be kept in mind here that (1) we know very little about the Zoroastrianism of the Achaemenid dynasty; (2) much of what we do know comes from sources considerably later than biblical writings; (3) what we do know reflects the garbled, magic-obsessed, syncretistic religion of the magi—hardly the Zoroastrianism necessary for the Jews to use as source for the biblical version. The Talmud (itself a very late source—A.D. 400) states that the Jews brought the names of angels back with them from Babylon; we can also allow for the idea that they may have been stimulated in their thinking about God, Satan, angels, demons and so on (in fact, common sense tells us that they must have done so). Nevertheless, such broad strokes are a far cry from proving that the Jews directly borrowed the actual concepts from Zoroastrianism. The Old Testament depicts Satan as a very inferior being, not as a dualistic opponent of God. We find only the sketchiest references to angels. They are definitely not objects of worship, and it is apparent that the apocalypses of the two cultures differ in all details other than that there is a resurrection and a judgment.

4. Finally, beyond resemblances, there are no particular data to support the assertion that Zoroastrianism influenced Judaism rather than the other way around. The very idea of foreign influences on Judaism has its basis in a dogmatic commitment by Western biblical scholars of the early twentieth century to explain Judaism in terms of the supposed evolution of religion (see chapter one). Thus all claims to an original revealed monotheism needed to be rethought in terms of either evolutionary develop­ment or foreign influences such as Zoroastrianism. Wherever such scholars find an apparent resemblance to another religion or culture, they immediately infer that the other religion was the source that influenced Judaism. This tendency also shows up in the ascription of Zoroastrian influence, though the data really do not support the arrows going in that direction (just as it would be difficult to make them point the other way). It becomes apparent that in tracing the supposed influence the question is frequently begged in favor of Zoroastrian influence on biblical writings. A quote by James H. Moulton is telling for this whole enterprise:

It is perhaps as well to remember that these theories do not come from Iranian experts, but from scholars whose fame was achieved in other fields. Were we to count only the Iranists, we should even doubt whether the Parsi did not borrow from the Jew, for that was the view of [the Iranian scholar] Darmesteter!

In sum, the story of Zoroastrian influence on other religions has been greatly exagger­ated. The resemblances are more superficial than real, and even where they are close, there is no good reason to infer direct influencing or borrowing. The real significance of Zoroastrianism does not lie in its influence on other religions but on what we learn about this religion in its own domain, as well as what we learn about the experience of monotheistic religions by its example.

Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1998), 129-131.


The UCHI Himself


Is Jesus a Copycat Savior?

(Originally posted December of 2015, Refreshed June of 2022)

In this inaugural Cold-Case Christianity video broadcast / podcast, J. Warner re-examines an atheist objection related to the historicity of Jesus. Is Jesus merely a copycat of prior mythologies like Mithras, Osiris or Horus? How can we, as Christians, respond to such claims? Jim provides a five point response to this common atheist claim. (For more information, please visit www.ColdCaseChristianity.com)

Here are three segments of a pretty thorough refutation of the “copy-cat messiah” myth many in the gen Y and X generation have been influenced by.

Full Video Response HERE

I wish to point something out.

Very rarely do you find someone who is an honest enough skeptic that after watching the above 3 short videos asks questions like: “Okay, since my suggestion was obviously false, what would be the driving presuppositions/biases behind such a production?” “What are my driving biases/presuppositions that caused me to grab onto such false positions?” You see, few people take the time and do the hard work to compare and contrast ideas and facts. A good example of this is taken from years of discussing various topics with persons of opposing views, I often ask if they have taken the time to “compare and contrast.” Here is my example:


I own and have watched (some of the below are shown in high-school classes):

• Bowling for Columbine
• Roger and Me
• Fahrenheit 9/11
• Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
• Sicko
• An Inconvenient Truth
• Loose Change
• Zeitgeist
• Religulouse
• The God Who Wasn’t There
• Super-Size Me

But rarely [really never] do I meet someone of the opposite persuasion from me that have watched any of the following (I own and have watched):

• Celsius41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Dies
• FahrenHYPE 9/11
• Michael & Me
• Michael Moore Hates America
• Bullshit! Fifth Season… Read More (where they tear apart the Wal-Mart documentary)
• Indoctrinate U
• Mine Your Own Business
• Screw Loose Change
• 3-part response to Zeitgeist
• Fat-Head
• Privileged Planet
• Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Continuing. Another point often overlooked is the impact the person who suggests the believer watch Zeitgeist thinks it will have.

Now that Zeitgeist has been shown to be very unsound and the history distorted, does the skeptic apply the same intended impact back upon him or herself? In other words, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Remember, the skeptic expects the Christian to watch this and come face-to-face with truth that undermines his or her’s faith, showing that they have a faith founded on something other than what they previously thought, an untruth. However, this intended outcome backfires and crumbles. The skeptic then has a duty [yes a duty] to apply intended impact onto one’s own biases and presuppositions and start to impose their own skepticism inward.

Christian historian and scholar Gary Habermas debates atheist Tim Callahan on the resurrection of Jesus. Callahan claims the resurrection of Jesus was influenced by pagan and Greek mythology, like Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, etc. Of course, Callahan’s views are typical among so many young gullible atheists influenced by Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Habermas rips his claims to shreds in this debate.

A small excerpt from Mary Jo Sharp’s chapter, “Does the Story of Jesus Mimic Pagan Stories,” via, Paul Copan & William Lane Craig, eds.,  Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics (pp. 154-160, 164). Mary Jo has a website, CONFIDENT CHRISTIANITY.

OSIRIS

1. Osiris
While some critics of Christ’s story utilize the story of Osiris to demonstrate that the earliest followers of Christ copied it, these critics rarely acknowledge how we know the story of Osiris at all. The only full account of Osiris’s story is from the second-century Al) Greek writer, Plutarch: “Concerning Isis and Osiris.”[4] The other information is found piecemeal in Egyptian and Greek sources, but a basic outline can be found in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2686-c. 2160 BC). This seems problematic when claiming that a story recorded in the second century influenced the New Testament accounts, which were written in the first century. Two other important aspects to mention are the evolving nature of the Osirian myth and the sexual nature of the worship of Osiris as noted by Plutarch. Notice how just a couple of details from the full story profoundly strain the comparison of Osiris with the life of Christ.

Who was Osiris? He was one of five offspring born of an adulterous affair between two gods—Nut, the sky-goddess, and Geb earth-god.[5] Because of Nut’s transgression, the Sun curses her and will not allow her to give birth on any day in any month. However, the god Thoth[6] also loves Nut. He secures five more days from the Moon to add to the Egyptian calendar specifically for Nut to give birth. While  inside his mother’s womb, Osiris falls in love with his sister, Isis. The two have intercourse inside the womb of Nut, and the resultant child is Horus.[7] Nut gives birth to all five offspring: Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.

Sometime after his birth, Osiris mistakes Nephthys, the wife of hisbrother Set, for his own wife and has intercourse with her. Enraged, Set plots to murder Osiris at a celebration for the gods. During the festivi­ties, Set procures a beautiful, sweet-smelling sarcophagus, promising it as a gift to the attendee whom it might fit. Of course, this is Osiris. Once Osiris lies down in the sarcophagus, Set solders it shut and then heaves it into the Nile. There are at least two versions of Osiris’s fate: (a) he suffocates in the sarcophagus as it floats down the Nile, and (b) he drowns in the sarcophagus after it is thrown into the Nile.

Grief-stricken Isis searches for and eventually recovers Osiris’s corpse. While traveling in a barge down the Nile, Isis conceives a child by cop­ulating with the dead body.[8] Upon returning to Egypt, Isis attempts to conceal the corpse from Set but fails. Still furious, Set dismembers his brother’s carcass into 14 pieces, which he then scatters throughout Egypt. A temple was supposedly erected at each location where a piece of Osiris was found.

Isis retrieves all but one of the pieces, his phallus. The body is mum­mified with a model made of the missing phallus. In Plutarch’s account of this part of the story, he noted that the Egyptians “presently hold a festival” in honor of this sexual organ.[9] Following magical incantations, Osiris is raised in the netherworld to reign as king of the dead in the land of the dead. In The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East, T. N. D. Mettinger states: “He both died and rose. But, and this is most important, he rose to continued life in the Netherworld, and the general connotations are that he was a god of the dead.”[10] Mettinger quotes Egyptologist Henri Frankfort:

Osiris, in fact, was not a dying god at all but a dead god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead, on the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king.[11]

This presents a very different picture from the resurrection of Jesus, which was reported as a return to physical life.

HORUS

2. Horus
Horus’s story is a bit difficult to decipher for two main reasons. Generally, his story lacks the amount of information for other gods, such as Osiris. Also, there are two stories concerning Horus that develop and then merge throughout Egyptian history: Horus the Sun-god, and Horus the child of Isis and Osiris. The major texts for Horus’s story are the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, the Book of the Dead, Plutarch, and Apuleius-all of which reflect the story of Horus as the child of Isis and Osiris.[12] The story is routinely found wherever the story of Osiris is found.

Who was Horus? He was the child of Isis and Osiris. His birth has several explanations as mentioned in Isis and Osiris’s story: (1) the result of the intercourse between Isis and Osiris in Nut’s womb; (2) conceived by Isis’s sexual intercourse with Osiris’s dead body; (3) Isis is impregnated by Osiris after his death and after the loss of his phallus; or (4) Isis is impregnated by a flash of lightning.[13] To protect Horus from his uncle’s rage against his father, Isis hides the child in the Delta swamps. While he is hiding, a scorpion stings him, and Isis returns to find his body lifeless. (In Margaret Murray’s account in The Splendor That Was Egypt, there is no death story here, but simply a poisoned child.) Isis prays to the god Ra to restore her son. Ra sends Thoth, another Egyptian god, to impart magical spells to Isis for the removal of the poison. Thus, Isis restores Horus to life. The lesson for worshippers of Isis is that prayers made to her will protect their children from harm and illness. Notice the outworking of this story is certainly not a hope for resurrection to new life, in which death is vanquished forever as is held by followers of Jesus.[14] Despite this strain on the argument, some still insist that Horus’s scorpion poisoning is akin to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In a variation of Horus’s story, he matures into adulthood at an accel­erated rate and sets out to avenge his father’s death. In an epic battle with his uncle Set, Horus loses his left eye, and his uncle suffers the loss of one part of his genitalia. The sacrifice of Horus’s eye, when given as an offering before the mummified Osiris, is what brings Osiris new life in the underworld.[15] Horus’s duties included arranging the burial rites of his dead father, avenging Osiris’s death, offering sacrifice as the Royal Sacrificer, and introducing recently deceased persons to Osiris in the netherworld as depicted in the Hunefer Papyrus (1317-1301 BC). One aspect of Horus’s duties as avenger was to strike down the foes of Osiris. This was ritualized through human sacrifice in the first dynasty, and then, eventually, animal sacrifice by the eighteenth dynasty. In the Book of the Dead we read of Osiris, “Behold this god, great of slaughter, great of fear! He washes in your blood, he bathes in your gore!”[16] So Horus, in the role of Royal Sacrificer, bought his own life from this Osiris by sacrificing the life of other. There is no similarity here to the sacrificial death of Jesus.

MITHRA

3. Mithras
There are no substantive accounts of Mithras’s story, but rather a pieced-together story from inscriptions, depictions, and surviving Mithraea (man-made caverns of worship). According to Rodney Stark, professor of social sciences at Baylor University, an immense amount of “nonsense” has been inspired by modern writers seeking to “decode the Mithraic mysteries.”[17] The reality is we know very little about the mystery of Mithras or its doctrines because of the secrecy of the cult initiates. Another problematic aspect is the attempt to trace the Roman military god, Mithras, back to the earlier Persian god, Mithra, and to the even earlier Indo-Iranian god, Mitra. While it is plausible that the latest form of Mithraic worship was based on antecedent Indo-Iranian traditions, the mystery religion that is compared to the story of Christ was a “genuinely new creation?”[18] Currently, some popular authors utilize the Roman god’s story from around the second century along with the Iranian god’s dates of appearance (c. 1500-1400 BC).

This is the sort of poor scholarship employed in popular renditions of Mithras, such as in Zeitgeist: The Movie. For the purpose of summary, we will utilize the basic aspects of the myth as found in Franz Cumont’s writing and note variations, keeping in mind that many Mithraic schol­ars question Cumont, as well as one another, as to interpretations and aspects of the story.[19] Thus, we will begin with Cumont’s outline.

Who was Mithra? He was born of a “generative rock,” next to a river bank, under the shade of a sacred tree. He emerged holding a dagger in one hand and a torch in the other to illumine the depths from which he came. In one variation of his story, after Mithra’s emergence from the rock, he clothed himself in fig leaves and then began to test his strength by subjugating the previously existent creatures of the world. Mithra’s first activity was to battle the Sun, whom he eventually befriended. His next activity was to battle the first living creature, a bull created by Ormazd (Ahura Mazda). Mithra slew the bull, and from its body, spine, and blood came all useful herbs and plants. The seed of the bull, gathered by the Moon, produced all the useful animals. It is through this first sacrifice of the first bull that beneficent life came into being, including human life. According to some traditions, this slaying took place in a cave, which allegedly explains the cave-like Mithraea.[20]

Mit(h)ra’s name meant “contract” or “compact.”[21] He was known in the Avesta—the Zoroastrian sacred texts—as the god with a hundred ears and a hundred eyes who sees, hears, and knows all. Mit(h)ra upheld agreements and defended truth. He was often invoked in solemn oaths that pledged the fulfillment of contracts and which promised his wrath should a person commit perjury. In the Zoroastrian tradition, Mithra was one of many minor deities (yazatas) created by Ahura Mazda, the supreme deity. He was the being who existed between the good Ahura Mazda and the evil Angra Mainyu—the being who exists between light and darkness and mediates between the two. Though he was considered a lesser deity to Ahura Mazda, he was still the “most potent and most glorious of the yazata.”[22]

The Roman version of this deity (Mithras) identified him with the light and sun. However, the god was not depicted as one with the sun, rather as sitting next to the sun in the communal meal. Again, Mithras was seen as a friend of the sun. This is important to note, as a later Roman inscription (c. AD 376) touted him as “Father of Fathers” and “the Invincible Sun God Mithras.”[23] Mithras was proclaimed as invin­cible because he never died and because he was completely victorious in all his battles. These aspects made him an attractive god for soldiers of the Roman army, who were his chief followers. Pockets of archaeologi­cal evidence from the outermost parts of the Roman Empire reinforce this assumption. Obviously, some problems arise in comparing Mithras to Christ, even at this level of simply comparing stories. Mithras lacks a death and therefore also lacks a resurrection.

Now that we have a more comprehensive view of the stories, it is quite easy to discern the vast difference between the story of Jesus and even the basic story lines of the commonly compared pagan mystery gods. One must only use the very limited, general aspects of the stories to make the accusation of borrowing, while ignoring the numerous aspects having nothing in common with Jesus’ story, such as missing body parts, sibling sexual intercourse inside the womb of a goddess-mother, and being born from a rock. This is why it is important to get the whole story. The sup­posed similarities are quite flimsy in the fuller context.

Just three excerpts from Edwin Yamauchi’s book, Persia and the Bible, These three pics are a bit unrelated… but the topic is on Mithras and their dating of the reliefs known to us. If you take the time to read Dr. Yamauchi’s chapter linked, you can see the connection to the above portion by Mary Jo. (The entire chapter on MITHRAISM can be read HERE.)


FOOTNOTES FROM BOXES “A” “B” “C”

[4] Plutarch, “Concerning Isis and Osiris,” in Hellenistic Religions: The Age of Syncretism, ed. Frederick C. Grant (Indianapolis: Liberal Arts Press, 1953), 80-95.

[5] In some depictions, Nut and Geb are married. Plutarch’s account insinuates that they have committed adultery because of the anger of the Sun at Nut’s transgression.

[6] Plutarch refers to Thoth as Hermes in “Concerning Isis and Osiris.”

[7] Plutarch’s “Concerning Isis and Osiris” appears to be the only account with this story of Horus’s birth.

[8] This aspect of the story, which was a variation of Horus’s conception story, is depicted in a drawing from the Osiris temple in Dendara.

[9] Plutarch, “Concerning Isis and Osiris,” 87.

[10] N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2001), 175.

[11] Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 190, 289; cf. 185; cited in Mettinger, Riddle of Resurrection, 172.

[12] For the purposes of this chapter, I use the following sources and translations: E. A. Wallis Budge’s translation of the Book of the Dead; Plutarch’s “Concerning Isis and Osiris”; Joseph Campbell’s piecing together of the story in The Mythic Image; as well as other noted interpreta­tions of the story.

[13] The latter two versions of Horus’s birth can be found in Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), 204. However, Stark does not reference the source for these birth stories.

[14] The development of Isis’s worship as a protector of children is a result of this instance; Margaret A. Murray, The Splendor That Was Egypt, rev. ed. (Mineola: Dover, 2004), 106.

[15] Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974), 29, 450.

[16] Murray, The Splendor That Was Egypt, 103.

[17] Stark, Discovering God, 141.

[18] Roger Beck, “The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of Their Genesis,” Journal of Roman Studies 88 (1998): 123.

[19] Roger Beck, M. J. Vermaseren, David Ulansey, N. M. Swerdlow, Bruce Lincoln, John R Hinnells, and Reinhold Merkelbach, for example.

[20] More corecontemporary Mithraic scholars have pointed to the lack of a bull-slaying story in the Iranian version of Mithra’s story: “there is no evidence the Iranian god ever had anything to do with a bull-slaying.” David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 8; see Bruce Lincoln, “Mitra, Mithra, Mithras: Problems of a Multiform Deity,” review of John R. Hinnells, Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies, in History of Religions 17 (1977): 202-3. For an interpretation of the slaying of the bull as a cosmic event, see Luther H. Martin, “Roman Mithrraism and Christianity,” Numen 36 (1989): 8.

[21] “For the god is clearly and sufficiently defined by his name. `Mitra means ‘con-tract’, as Meillet established long ago and D. [Professor G. Dumezi] knows but keeps forgetting.” Ilya Gershevitch, review of Mitra and Aryaman and The Western Response to Zoroaster, in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 22 (1959): 154. See Paul Thieme, “Remarks on the Avestan Hymn to Mithra,”Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 23 (1960): 273.

[22] Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra: The Origins of Mithraism (1903). Accessed on May 3,2008, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/mom/index.htm.

[23] Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI. 510; H. Dessau, Inscriptions Latinae Selectae II. 1 (1902), No. 4152, as quoted in Grant, Hellenistic Religions, 147. This inscription was found at Rome, dated August 13, AD 376. Notice the late date of this title for Mithras—well after Christianity was firmly established in Rome.


Another good source is: “Jesus Vs Mithra – Debunking The Alleged Parallels

Dr. William Lane Craig

On Thursday, April 10th, 2014 Dr William Lane Craig spoke on the “Objective Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus” at Yale University. Dr. Craig is one of the leading theologians and defenders of Jesus’ resurrection, demonstrating the veracity of his divinity. This is the biggest claim in history! After the lecture, Dr Craig had a lengthy question and answer time with students from Yale. In this video, Dr Craig answers the question, “What about pre-Christ resurrection myths?”

Dr. William Lane Craig answers the question: Is Jesus’ life parallel to the story of Osiris and Horus?

PLUS, Dr. Mark Foreman

Refuting Zeitgeist the Movie Mark Foreman\

Did Zoroastrianism Influence Judaic Theology?

Some posit that Jewish thinking on Satan is borrowed from Zoroasterian thought, however, Satan makes an appearance in the book Job. Job is a very early book… pre-dating Zoroaster’s life easily. Satan, as described there, is nothing like the evil god Ahriman, who is a dualistic equal to Ohrmazd the good god, rather than a subordinate.

There is a waay more in-depth dealing with this topic of a supposed Zoroastrian influence in Dr. Corduan’s PDF here:

Another excellent resource that responds to specific scholars on the issue is professor Edwin M. Yamauchi’s, PERSIA AND THE BIBLE, esp. chapter twelve. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Corduan’s excellent book:

Zoroastrian Influences

Scholars commonly observe that the real significance of Zoroastrianism lies in the influence it has exerted on the development of other world religions, specifically Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For example, it has been suggested that Jews picked up the concepts of Satan, angels, demons and the apocalypse (resurrection and judgment at the end of the world) during their exile in Babylonia and immediately thereafter. Notions of Zoroastrian influence were particularly popular during the early twentieth century. Even though scholarly support for them has eroded, they continue to be propagated on the popular level and in introductory textbooks.

There is nothing intrinsically pernicious about the idea that one religion may have influenced another one. A case in point lies in the origin of Islam in the life of Muhammad. We know that Muhammad came into contact with established versions of Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. We know what those adherents believed for the most part, and we can show exactly how some of those beliefs showed up (and how they were modified) in the Qur’an. Thus it makes sense to think in terms of the influence that these three religions exerted on Muhammad. I have argued that we must leave plenty of room both for Muhammad’s own creativity and for the vestige of original monotheism present in Arabian culture at his time. The idea does become objectionable when the identification of a supposed influence is used to eliminate all originality (or even truth—the “genetic fallacy”) from a religious belief simply by showing that it was derived from some other source.

We can use the example of influences on Muhammad to establish criteria by which we can judge whether Zoroastrianism could have influenced Judaism. In order to conclude reasonably that such an influence occurred, the following points have to be true:

  1. Zoroastrianism must have been established in the form in which it was supposed to have influenced Judaism.
  2. There must have been sufficient opportunity for the Jews to absorb the doctrines.
  3. There must be sufficient resemblance between the Zoroastrian version of the doctrines and the biblical version to make influence a reasonable conclusion.
  4. There must be a clear indication that the influence went from Zoroastrianism to Judaism and not the other way around. This criterion is particularly incisive if there is some evidence that the beliefs in question may have been present in Judaism before the period of supposed contact with Zoroastrianism.

As it turns out, not one of these criteria supports the notion of Zoroastrian influence.

1. Zoroastrianism had a particularly tough time getting established in Per­sia. Even the kings we know as Zoroastrians wor­shiped Ahura Mazda along with other gods. All these kings ruled at a time later than the period of the exile. Cyrus, who sent the Jews back to their own land, was not Zoroastrian. If Zoroas­trianism had influenced Is­rael at this time, then the Jews must have been more open to the message of Zoroaster than the Persians themselves were.

2. The kind of intimate contact necessary for assimilation of foreign beliefs cannot be demonstrated for the Jews in the mainstream of biblical Judaism. As stated above, Persia did not become Zoroastrian until after the exile. So the influences (if any) must have come much more indirectly. An interesting sidelight to this discussion is that the ten northern tribes were indeed transported by the Assyrians to the region roughly identical with Media, the sphere of Zoroaster’s activity. But the northern tribes had no concrete influence on the development of Judaism (in fact, they basically vanished). It would be far more likely that their presence in Media might have influenced subsequent thought there, but we have no evidence for that hypothesis either.

3. By and large, the supposed resemblances between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are superficial at best. Beyond the idea that Jewish biblical writings show evidence of Satan, angels and apocalypse, there is very little similarity in the details. It must be kept in mind here that (1) we know very little about the Zoroastrianism of the Achaemenid dynasty; (2) much of what we do know comes from sources considerably later than biblical writings; (3) what we do know reflects the garbled, magic-obsessed, syncretistic religion of the magi—hardly the Zoroastrianism necessary for the Jews to use as source for the biblical version. The Talmud (itself a very late source—A.D. 400) states that the Jews brought the names of angels back with them from Babylon; we can also allow for the idea that they may have been stimulated in their thinking about God, Satan, angels, demons and so on (in fact, common sense tells us that they must have done so). Nevertheless, such broad strokes are a far cry from proving that the Jews directly borrowed the actual concepts from Zoroastrianism. The Old Testament depicts Satan as a very inferior being, not as a dualistic opponent of God. We find only the sketchiest references to angels. They are definitely not objects of worship, and it is apparent that the apocalypses of the two cultures differ in all details other than that there is a resurrection and a judgment.

4. Finally, beyond resemblances, there are no particular data to support the assertion that Zoroastrianism influenced Judaism rather than the other way around. The very idea of foreign influences on Judaism has its basis in a dogmatic commitment by Western biblical scholars of the early twentieth century to explain Judaism in terms of the supposed evolution of religion (see chapter one). Thus all claims to an original revealed monotheism needed to be rethought in terms of either evolutionary develop­ment or foreign influences such as Zoroastrianism. Wherever such scholars find an apparent resemblance to another religion or culture, they immediately infer that the other religion was the source that influenced Judaism. This tendency also shows up in the ascription of Zoroastrian influence, though the data really do not support the arrows going in that direction (just as it would be difficult to make them point the other way). It becomes apparent that in tracing the supposed influence the question is frequently begged in favor of Zoroastrian influence on biblical writings. A quote by James H. Moulton is telling for this whole enterprise:

It is perhaps as well to remember that these theories do not come from Iranian experts, but from scholars whose fame was achieved in other fields. Were we to count only the Iranists, we should even doubt whether the Parsi did not borrow from the Jew, for that was the view of [the Iranian scholar] Darmesteter!

In sum, the story of Zoroastrian influence on other religions has been greatly exagger­ated. The resemblances are more superficial than real, and even where they are close, there is no good reason to infer direct influencing or borrowing. The real significance of Zoroastrianism does not lie in its influence on other religions but on what we learn about this religion in its own domain, as well as what we learn about the experience of monotheistic religions by its example.

Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1998), 129-131.

Is Christianity Connected with Mystery Religions?

A small excerpt from Mary Jo Sharp’s chapter, “Does the Story of Jesus Mimic Pagan Stories,” via, Paul Copan & William Lane Craig, eds.,  Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics (pp. 154-160, 164). Mary Jo has a website, Confident Christianity.

1. Osiris
While some critics of Christ’s story utilize the story of Osiris to demonstrate that the earliest followers of Christ copied it, these critics rarely acknowledge how we know the story of Osiris at all. The only full account of Osiris’s story is from the second-century Al) Greek writer, Plutarch: “Concerning Isis and Osiris.”[4] The other information is found piecemeal in Egyptian and Greek sources, but a basic outline can be found in the Pyramid Texts (c. 2686-c. 2160 BC). This seems problematic when claiming that a story recorded in the second century influenced the New Testament accounts, which were written in the first century. Two other important aspects to mention are the evolving nature of the Osirian myth and the sexual nature of the worship of Osiris as noted by Plutarch. Notice how just a couple of details from the full story profoundly strain the comparison of Osiris with the life of Christ.

Who was Osiris? He was one of five offspring born of an adulterous affair between two gods—Nut, the sky-goddess, and Geb earth-god.[5] Because of Nut’s transgression, the Sun curses her and will not allow her to give birth on any day in any month. However, the god Thoth[6] also loves Nut. He secures five more days from the Moon to add to the Egyptian calendar specifically for Nut to give birth. While  inside his mother’s womb, Osiris falls in love with his sister, Isis. The two have intercourse inside the womb of Nut, and the resultant child is Horus.[7] Nut gives birth to all five offspring: Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.

Sometime after his birth, Osiris mistakes Nephthys, the wife of hisbrother Set, for his own wife and has intercourse with her. Enraged, Set plots to murder Osiris at a celebration for the gods. During the festivi­ties, Set procures a beautiful, sweet-smelling sarcophagus, promising it as a gift to the attendee whom it might fit. Of course, this is Osiris. Once Osiris lies down in the sarcophagus, Set solders it shut and then heaves it into the Nile. There are at least two versions of Osiris’s fate: (a) he suffocates in the sarcophagus as it floats down the Nile, and (b) he drowns in the sarcophagus after it is thrown into the Nile.

Grief-stricken Isis searches for and eventually recovers Osiris’s corpse. While traveling in a barge down the Nile, Isis conceives a child by cop­ulating with the dead body.[8] Upon returning to Egypt, Isis attempts to conceal the corpse from Set but fails. Still furious, Set dismembers his brother’s carcass into 14 pieces, which he then scatters throughout Egypt. A temple was supposedly erected at each location where a piece of Osiris was found.

Isis retrieves all but one of the pieces, his phallus. The body is mum­mified with a model made of the missing phallus. In Plutarch’s account of this part of the story, he noted that the Egyptians “presently hold a festival” in honor of this sexual organ.[9] Following magical incantations, Osiris is raised in the netherworld to reign as king of the dead in the land of the dead. In The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East, T. N. D. Mettinger states: “He both died and rose. But, and this is most important, he rose to continued life in the Netherworld, and the general connotations are that he was a god of the dead.”[10] Mettinger quotes Egyptologist Henri Frankfort:

Osiris, in fact, was not a dying god at all but a dead god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead,… on the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king.[11]

This presents a very different picture from the resurrection of Jesus, which was reported as a return to physical life.

2. Horus
Horus’s story is a bit difficult to decipher for two main reasons. Generally, his story lacks the amount of information for other gods, such as Osiris. Also, there are two stories concerning Horus that develop and then merge throughout Egyptian history: Horus the Sun-god, and Horus the child of Isis and Osiris. The major texts for Horus’s story are the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, the Book of the Dead, Plutarch, and Apuleius-all of which reflect the story of Horus as the child of Isis and Osiris.[12] The story is routinely found wherever the story of Osiris is found.

Who was Horus? He was the child of Isis and Osiris. His birth has several explanations as mentioned in Isis and Osiris’s story: (1) the result of the intercourse between Isis and Osiris in Nut’s womb; (2) conceived by Isis’s sexual intercourse with Osiris’s dead body; (3) Isis is impregnated by Osiris after his death and after the loss of his phallus; or (4) Isis is impregnated by a flash of lightning.[13] To protect Horus from his uncle’s rage against his father, Isis hides the child in the Delta swamps. While he is hiding, a scorpion stings him, and Isis returns to find his body lifeless. (In Margaret Murray’s account in The Splendor That Was Egypt, there is no death story here, but simply a poisoned child.) Isis prays to the god Ra to restore her son. Ra sends Thoth, another Egyptian god, to impart magical spells to Isis for the removal of the poison. Thus, Isis restores Horus to life. The lesson for worshippers of Isis is that prayers made to her will protect their children from harm and illness. Notice the outworking of this story is certainly not a hope for resurrection to new life, in which death is vanquished forever as is held by followers of Jesus.[14] Despite this strain on the argument, some still insist that Horus’s scorpion poisoning is akin to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In a variation of Horus’s story, he matures into adulthood at an accel­erated rate and sets out to avenge his father’s death. In an epic battle with his uncle Set, Horus loses his left eye, and his uncle suffers the loss of one part of his genitalia. The sacrifice of Horus’s eye, when given as an offering before the mummified Osiris, is what brings Osiris new life in the underworld.[15] Horus’s duties included arranging the burial rites of his dead father, avenging Osiris’s death, offering sacrifice as the Royal Sacrificer, and introducing recently deceased persons to Osiris in the netherworld as depicted in the Hunefer Papyrus (1317-1301 BC). One aspect of Horus’s duties as avenger was to strike down the foes of Osiris. This was ritualized through human sacrifice in the first dynasty, and then, eventually, animal sacrifice by the eighteenth dynasty. In the Book of the Dead we read of Osiris, “Behold this god, great of slaughter, great of fear! He washes in your blood, he bathes in your gore!”[16] So Horus, in the role of Royal Sacrificer, bought his own life from this Osiris by sacrificing the life of other. There is no similarity here to the sacrificial death of Jesus.

3. Mithras
There are no substantive accounts of Mithras’s story, but rather a pieced-together story from inscriptions, depictions, and surviving Mithraea (man-made caverns of worship). According to Rodney Stark, professor of social sciences at Baylor University, an immense amount of “nonsense” has been inspired by modern writers seeking to “decode the Mithraic mysteries.”[17] The reality is we know very little about the mystery of Mithras or its doctrines because of the secrecy of the cult initiates. Another problematic aspect is the attempt to trace the Roman military god, Mithras, back to the earlier Persian god, Mithra, and to the even earlier Indo-Iranian god, Mitra. While it is plausible that the latest form of Mithraic worship was based on antecedent Indo-Iranian traditions, the mystery religion that is compared to the story of Christ was a “genuinely new creation?”[18] Currently, some popular authors utilize the Roman god’s story from around the second century along with the Iranian god’s dates of appearance (c. 1500-1400 BC).

This is the sort of poor scholarship employed in popular renditions of Mithras, such as in Zeitgeist: The Movie. For the purpose of summary, we will utilize the basic aspects of the myth as found in Franz Cumont’s writing and note variations, keeping in mind that many Mithraic schol­ars question Cumont, as well as one another, as to interpretations and aspects of the story.[19] Thus, we will begin with Cumont’s outline.

Who was Mithra? He was born of a “generative rock,” next to a river bank, under the shade of a sacred tree. He emerged holding a dagger in one hand and a torch in the other to illumine the depths from which he came. In one variation of his story, after Mithra’s emergence from the rock, he clothed himself in fig leaves and then began to test his strength by subjugating the previously existent creatures of the world. Mithra’s first activity was to battle the Sun, whom he eventually befriended. His next activity was to battle the first living creature, a bull created by Ormazd (Ahura Mazda). Mithra slew the bull, and from its body, spine, and blood came all useful herbs and plants. The seed of the bull, gathered by the Moon, produced all the useful animals. It is through this first sacrifice of the first bull that beneficent life came into being, including human life. According to some traditions, this slaying took place in a cave, which allegedly explains the cave-like Mithraea.[20]

Mit(h)ra’s name meant “contract” or “compact.”[21] He was known in the Avesta—the Zoroastrian sacred texts—as the god with a hundred ears and a hundred eyes who sees, hears, and knows all. Mit(h)ra upheld agreements and defended truth. He was often invoked in solemn oaths that pledged the fulfillment of contracts and which promised his wrath should a person commit perjury. In the Zoroastrian tradition, Mithra was one of many minor deities (yazatas) created by Ahura Mazda, the supreme deity. He was the being who existed between the good Ahura Mazda and the evil Angra Mainyu—the being who exists between light and darkness and mediates between the two. Though he was considered a lesser deity to Ahura Mazda, he was still the “most potent and most glorious of the yazata.”[22]

The Roman version of this deity (Mithras) identified him with the light and sun. However, the god was not depicted as one with the sun, rather as sitting next to the sun in the communal meal. Again, Mithras was seen as a friend of the sun. This is important to note, as a later Roman inscription (c. AD 376) touted him as “Father of Fathers” and “the Invincible Sun God Mithras.”[23] Mithras was proclaimed as invin­cible because he never died and because he was completely victorious in all his battles. These aspects made him an attractive god for soldiers of the Roman army, who were his chief followers. Pockets of archaeologi­cal evidence from the outermost parts of the Roman Empire reinforce this assumption. Obviously, some problems arise in comparing Mithras to Christ, even at this level of simply comparing stories. Mithras lacks a death and therefore also lacks a resurrection.

Now that we have a more comprehensive view of the stories, it is quite easy to discern the vast difference between the story of Jesus and even the basic story lines of the commonly compared pagan mystery gods. One must only use the very limited, general aspects of the stories to make the accusation of borrowing, while ignoring the numerous aspects having nothing in common with Jesus’ story, such as missing body parts, sibling sexual intercourse inside the womb of a goddess-mother, and being born from a rock. This is why it is important to get the whole story. The sup­posed similarities are quite flimsy in the fuller context.

(Click to enlarge – above & below) Just three pages from Edwin Yamauchi’s book, Persia and the Bible, These three pages are a bit unrelated… but the topic is on Mithras, and if read, you can see the connection to the above portion by Mary Jo.


[4] Plutarch, “Concerning Isis and Osiris,” in Hellenistic Religions: The Age of Syncretism, ed. Frederick C. Grant (Indianapolis: Liberal Arts Press, 1953), 80-95.

[5] In some depictions, Nut and Geb are married. Plutarch’s account insinuates that they have committed adultery because of the anger of the Sun at Nut’s transgression.

[6] Plutarch refers to Thoth as Hermes in “Concerning Isis and Osiris.”

[7] Plutarch’s “Concerning Isis and Osiris” appears to be the only account with this story of Horus’s birth.

[8] This aspect of the story, which was a variation of Horus’s conception story, is depicted in a drawing from the Osiris temple in Dendara.

[9] Plutarch, “Concerning Isis and Osiris,” 87.

[10] N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2001), 175.

[11] Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 190, 289; cf. 185; cited in Mettinger, Riddle of Resurrection, 172.

[12] For the purposes of this chapter, I use the following sources and translations: E. A. Wallis Budge’s translation of the Book of the Dead; Plutarch’s “Concerning Isis and Osiris”; Joseph Campbell’s piecing together of the story in The Mythic Image; as well as other noted interpreta­tions of the story.

[13] The latter two versions of Horus’s birth can be found in Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), 204. However, Stark does not reference the source for these birth stories.

[14] The development of Isis’s worship as a protector of children is a result of this instance; Margaret A. Murray, The Splendor That Was Egypt, rev. ed. (Mineola: Dover, 2004), 106.

[15] Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974), 29, 450.

[16] Murray, The Splendor That Was Egypt, 103.

[17] Stark, Discovering God, 141.

[18] Roger Beck, “The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of Their Genesis,” Journal of Roman Studies 88 (1998): 123.

[19] Roger Beck, M. J. Vermaseren, David Ulansey, N. M. Swerdlow, Bruce Lincoln, John R Hinnells, and Reinhold Merkelbach, for example.

[20] More corecontemporary Mithraic scholars have pointed to the lack of a bull-slaying story in the Iranian version of Mithra’s story: “there is no evidence the Iranian god ever had anything to do with a bull-slaying.” David Ulansey, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 8; see Bruce Lincoln, “Mitra, Mithra, Mithras: Problems of a Multiform Deity,” review of John R. Hinnells, Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies, in History of Religions 17 (1977): 202-3. For an interpretation of the slaying of the bull as a cosmic event, see Luther H. Martin, “Roman Mithrraism and Christianity,” Numen 36 (1989): 8.

[21] “For the god is clearly and sufficiently defined by his name. `Mitra means ‘con-tract’, as Meillet established long ago and D. [Professor G. Dumezi] knows but keeps forgetting.” Ilya Gershevitch, review of Mitra and Aryaman and The Western Response to Zoroaster, in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 22 (1959): 154. See Paul Thieme, “Remarks on the Avestan Hymn to Mithra,”Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 23 (1960): 273.

[22] Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra: The Origins of Mithraism (1903). Accessed on May 3,2008, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/mom/index.htm.

[23] Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI. 510; H. Dessau, Inscriptions Latinae Selectae II. 1 (1902), No. 4152, as quoted in Grant, Hellenistic Religions, 147. This inscription was found at Rome, dated August 13, AD 376. Notice the late date of this title for Mithras—well after Christianity was firmly established in Rome.