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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How much of Christianity is based on myths common to Mediterranean religions of the era?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30822points) September 8th, 2010

This site provides some enlightening facts and scholarship arguing that most of what is believed about Jesus was common to other religions in the Mediterranean for 1000 years or more. Miracles, God born of a human, and even the idea of salvation were not new.

Why do the ideas of other religions regarded as myths suddenly gain credence when placed in a Christian setting?

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33 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

They don’t suddenly gain credence for those who don’t buy into religion. And for those who do, explaining history or what have you makes no difference – again, it’s about faith, not facts.

Seek's avatar

Because Jesus loves you, and Hell is a scary, scary place.

It’s tempting to babble further, but I’m going to resist and say that’s the basic idea.

phoebusg's avatar

To my view. The whole contraption of Christianity is a huge plagiarism case. It was created after the Hellenistic age – where lots of libraries held plenty of material. Not just myths, but philosophies, sciences and a lot of other types of books and authors. One could easily walk into the Library of Alexandria – compose a long ‘essay’ to his liking. Twisting things to fit as it often happens in literature, and walked out with a ready – potent new system of control and empire-building through indoctrination. Then – as it happened- you burn down the libraries and the said library of Alexandria and you don’t need to worry about sources. Keeping only books that support your thesis/side of the stories. Of course, you can always seal all the above with a faith seal – word of god case.

It does have a lot of credible things in it, and they’re not original. It’s the key. But these things do get most people. How else can you disguise poison? – In something sweet.

Using a central character in the story: Jesus – makes it more personal. Using and abusing human psychology, you’re much more likely to side to one person you find great – than a group of people wishing to control you. But they do, and you fall in for the rest of the stuff as well.

The right time appeared for this religion to be spread. The Roman empire needed another unifying force – and was the beating hand that helped greatly in its indoctrination. The rest is history – a lot of which is also sided with that side of the story. Making it similar / copying local myths also made the indoctrination easier – although most people didn’t have a choice. You only need one generation of kids being raised Christian – then their kids, and their kids. Done – installed.

Aster's avatar often thought about this too. So if one is not Christian he.d have to believe the guys who made up the religion knew all about the other religions claiming virgin birth, rising again, etc and decided to copy these characteristics naming Jesus as playing the leading role. hmmm

wundayatta's avatar

Marketing and organizing ability. The Catholic Church is the oldest continually existing organization in the world. I think it was Peter and Paul who were the geniuses behind the establishment of this organization, but I’m not sure. It was some of the early leaders who built a structure with a stable means of power transfer that was protected from governments that competed for land.

The Church was very clever in insulating itself, fairly successfully, from efforts by national governments to coopt it. I think it did this by allowing itself to be somewhat coopted at times. They knew how to make practical alliances and agreements to keep the organization together. For part of the time, they even had a working military force.

Somehow they were able to maintain their status as a quasi-state that could exist simultaneously with any other state (except those that expelled Catholics). They also had a long term perspective that allowed them to wait out many of their enemies. The Church survives while all other governmental organizations fail sooner or later.

I believe this was all set in place in the early years. Hence Peter and Paul. Maybe Peter was the big time organizer. In any case, he must have known something about organizations because he built one that has lasted longer than any other. It is remarkably stable. It has had its schisms and wars, but it has held together throughout all of that.

What keeps an organization together is partly the bureaucracy and power structure, but I think what is most important is the idea. It is the idea that must attract people and bind them to the organization and the defense of the organization and the growth of the organization.

It probably didn’t even matter what Jesus really did or who he really was. He was a good scaffolding on which to place this idea; this myth; that allowed Peter to bind people together around the world. Without Peter (or whoever), Jesus would have just been another prophet in the desert. Peter was responsible for creating the myth and creating the organization. He was one of the world’s greatest geniuses in that way.

Qingu's avatar

Christianity isn’t just based on Roman mystery cults and other “Mediterranean” myths. It is also very heavily based on Hebrew mythology.

Which is, in turn, based on earlier Mesopotamian mythology.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Christianity’s ability to adapt itself to the surrounding mythoses(?) of the areas it spread to gave it a leg up on the competition, that’s for sure.

What happened after it got the leg up is what’s so sad.

marinelife's avatar

As that Web site says, history is written by the winners.

Whitsoxdude's avatar

I agree with you, but it doesn’t change what I believe. If I told you why, you would just laugh at me.

Cruiser's avatar

A lot and personally I don’t think it takes a certain amount of genius to reach that conclusion. I thought it was pretty common knowledge Jesus and his immediate followers were all Jewish and students of the Torah or the law which included many of the Talmudic traditions Jesus integrated into his sermons and teachings. These Talmudic traditions in turn borrowed heavily from the religious myths of the centuries before as referenced in your link.

faye's avatar

The Jesus story is taken from the Mithras story 2–300 years earlier, almost exactly. I was just reading about this again last night. And the holiday dates are pagan festival dates. I have been confused from childhood how Jesus died on a different date each spring.

Qingu's avatar

The Mithras story in question probably does not predate Christianity, actually.

Mithras was a Persian deity, but the Mediterranean cult surrounding him post-dates, or at most grew up alongside, Christianity. Jesus’ myth is probably more influenced by Osiris-centered mystery cults, not Mithraic.

Zoroastrianism, the source of the original Mithras myth, did influence Judaism, though. The idea of Satan (he who opposes) may come from Zoroastrianism.

Qingu's avatar

Also, the Christian holidays (Easter during spring equinox, Christmas during winter solstice) were a Catholic thing. You are correct—the holidays co-opted existing pagan traditions and dates. But the early Christians did not celebrate such holidays at those times.

PupnTaco's avatar

This book does a really good job of tracing common archetypes: link

Aster's avatar

so let,s be accurate. When was the Mithras thingie? So happens I have a big book on it but I can.t find it!

Qingu's avatar

Mithras was a character in Persian/Zoroastrian mythology (not sure how early; could be as old as prophet-era Judaism c. 600 BC), but the Roman mystery cult surrounding him started around 80AD.

There are way more similarities between Christian and the mystery Mithraic cult than the ancient Persian version. I mean, there’s some similarities between Christ and the Persian Mithras/Mitra whatever, but from what I remember (and skimming the wiki) they’re pretty vague. Jesus has more similarities with Osiris, who also had a mystery cult in Rome, and that predated Christianity. But I’m not really an expert in the mystery religions…

Qingu's avatar

Just to clarify:

Christianity is heavily based on a group of Roman-era cults called “the mysteries.” (Some would say Christianity is a mystery cult). There were lots of such cults. They often centered around Egyptian or Greek gods like Demeter or Osiris (these gods were associated with resurrection myths). Many of the cults predated Christianity.

One mystery cult centered on a Persian god, Mithra. This cult has a lot of similarities with Christianity. However, it’s not an early mystery cult, and it looks like it post-dates Christianity.

ETpro's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Has it exactly right. Such ideas didn’t suddenly gain credence with all people when merged into Christianity, they gained credence with Christians. To the so-called pagans who held these myths, they had great credence.

Also, there are significant parts of the Old Testament that can be traced to the Gilgamesh Epic. Gilgamesh was said to have ruled the Uruk kingdom of ancient Sumeria for 126 years. Construction mentioned in the Gilgamesh Epic has been found in the ancient world, placing the king’s rule about 2,500 BC. Myths from other lands the Jewish nation spent time with in their wanderings are also in the Old Testament as the word of the one true GOd.

faye's avatar

@Qingu I know you know more about religions than I do. There was a link in a question yesterday or the day before that had Mithra predating Jesus and said it did not consider the common men the way Christianity did so it died out. The writer was trying to diss Jesus though, so just may have been a little skewed re dates! It is a very familiar story that I’ve read about before.

Qingu's avatar

@faye, I could be wrong, it’s been a while since I’ve studied this stuff… but there is a lot of sloppy scholarship out there from nonreligious folks. (I blame Dan Brown…) According to Wiki, at least, The Persian deity Mitra does predate Jesus; but the Mithraic mystery cult that is so similar to Christianity does not predate Jesus.

(Another pet peeve of mine: atheists who claim Jesus didn’t really exist and Paul and Peter made up the entire character out of wholecloth).

ETpro's avatar

@Qingu Since the Mithraic mystery cult became popular with Roman military before the New Testament was even written, it’s a real stretch to suggest that it was based entirely on the life of Jesus being translated to Mithra. It arose in the 1st to 4th centuries AD and due to the Roman legionaries’ attachment to it, was widely known throughout the ancient world. . The earliest written New Testament books were written around AD 50, and were not widely distributed till much later. They could have more easily borrowed from the Mithraic mystery cult than the Mithraites could have borrowed from the Christian works.

Qingu's avatar

@ETpro, I didn’t mean to suggest that the Mithra cult ripped off Christianity. They seem to have grown up together—maybe they influenced each other, but it seems more likely that both Christianity and the Mithra cult were independently influenced by similar, earlier traditions (i.e. convergent evolution).

It’s not true that the Mithraic cult became popular before the NT was ever written. The earliest mention of the Mithraic cult was 80AD, which is contemporary with the gospels and several decades after the writings of Paul. Paul’s writing already contained pretty advanced resurrection mythology.

I’m nitpicking here, not because I think Christianity is this unique religion free from pagan influence (it was obviously influenced by earlier mystery cults); I just don’t think there’s much evidence that this particular mystery cult influenced Christianity.

ETpro's avatar

@Qingu The point I was making is that the Gospels were written, but in tiny distribution. Only a handful of people at that time were in possession of them. There were no printing presses. Hand transcription was painfully slow and expensive. It’s a safe bet that few if any in the Mithric cult has any knowledge of the Gospels.

What we know as the New Testament today was fully canonized much later. Per Wikipedia: “Full dogmatic articulations of the canons were not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for British Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox.”

Qingu's avatar

Well… I don’t think there’s much evidence, so I agree with you. But I think you’re underestimating early Christianity’s rapid rise to popularity, especially compared to other mystery religions (like Mithraic and Eluesian) that didn’t actively evangelize.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Mithra people knew about Christianity at an early date, nor would it surprise me if they adopted some Christian ideas/practices to make their cult more appealing. That’s sort of what cults do. But there’s no evidence that they did, so it’s just speculation.

Jabe73's avatar

@hawaii_jake Perhaps you would be intersted in reading the book, “The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors” by Kersey Graves.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Jabe73 Thank you. I’ll look for that.

josie's avatar

Because the pinnacle of the civilization that influenced ours the most was Rome. And Paul was a Roman. So, he carried the Word back to Rome, where it spread quickly. Maybe…
But the truth is nobody knows. The New Testament was put to paper centuries after the events of the life and death of Jesus. And the only thing close to a contemporary account is one by Tacitus, almost a century later, and one by Josephus around the same time. And even those are in dispute as to there authenticity. Ancient texts are mostly gone, certainly those that may have been the origin of the New Testament.and the words we read today were re written in the Dark Ages, perhaps to suit the needs and ideology of the Church.

thekoukoureport's avatar

Paul actually Saul of tarsus was the first to use mass mailing. An expert salesman in his letters to the Phonecians, Thesselonians, Romans, But he never actually met Jesus himself. In fact the letters that are in the bible have been analized and found to be written by at least seven different people!

Aster's avatar

‘Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of his followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter’s. Peter used to adapt his teachings to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord’s sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some of the things as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only – to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it.[9]
Mark’s writings are believed to be the earliest of the Gospel’s recordings.

Aster's avatar

Bible scholars overwhelmingly agree that the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel written. It is also evident that Mark was the resource text used by Matthew and Luke in compiling their own accounts of Jesus’ life. The likely year of it’s composition is 65 AD. It is also believed that this Gospel was originally penned in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire, the language of the Roman Christians. This particular Mark is probably the same “John Mark” whose mother, Mary, held the first Christian meetings in her house. (Acts 12: 12) John was his Jewish name and Mark (Marcus) his Roman.
Why was this account only written in 65AD and not earlier if the crucifixion took place around 30 AD? The Apostles and other eyewitnesses had been spreading the gospel ever since the first Christian Pentecost. A written record was not really needed since Jesus companions were able to give first hand testimony about what they saw and heard. There were some writings already in circulation, which documented many of Christ’s sayings and miracles. The eyewitnesses were getting older and no actual written account of Jesus’ life had been undertaken. John Mark had not been one of the twelve Apostles but as seen in Acts 12:12 and in some of Paul’s letters; he was involved in a big way. (Philemon 24; Col. 4: 10) It was John Mark who left for Cyprus with Barnabas when Paul and Barnabas went different ways. (Acts 15: 39) The argument between Paul and Barnabas was actually about John Marks worthiness to continue on the missionary journey.
Mark accompanied Paul until the latter was martyred. Mark also associated closely with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) as sort of an interpreter. It is now understood that most of what Mark wrote down was as a result of Peter’s testimony and reflects his perspective on Jesus activities. But Peter was also crucified; according to tradition he was hung upside down. The deaths of Peter and Paul no doubt spurred Mark on to write it all down before it disappeared or became distorted by the unreliability of oral tradition only. Some speculate that John Mark may have witnessed the crucifixion.

Nullo's avatar

None of it. It is the prime, the rest are the derivatives.

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