Internet Atheists usually bring up an argument in discussions with Christians that Jesus was copied from pagan deities. They’ll bring up a bunch of “similarities” between Jesus and these pagan deities and claim that the Christians copied these pagan myths to make their story about Jesus.
Are there really a number of gods who have biographies shockingly similar to that of Jesus of Nazareth? Names that are commonly included in this group of similar gods include Mithras, Dionysus, and Osiris, among others.
This attack on the deity (and even the historicity) of Christ is continually circulating (though mostly on the internet, not scholarly circles). Some claim that other gods share the attributes of being virgin-born, being born on December 25th, performing the same kinds of miracles Jesus did, dying (in some cases being crucified), and miraculously resurrecting from the dead.
First, before we look at the “similarities”, let’s first consider what the implications would be even if all of these pagan deities really were similar to Jesus? Would it be a powerful argument against the historicity of the gospels if these pagan deities were similar to Jesus?
1: The Argument Commits A Logical Fallacy.
And 2: This Same Reasoning Can Disprove Other Historical Figures.
This Pagan Deity argument actually commits a logical fallacy known as “Post-hoc ergo propter hoc”. That’s Latin for “After this, therefore because of this”. The post hoc ergo propter hoc is an argument that goes something like "Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X." This is obviously a fallacy since this always the case. For example, if someone were eating a slice of pizza right before the twin towers were struck on September 11th 2001, does it follow that the airplanes striking the building is caused by the person eating that slice of pizza? Obviously not. Or again, suppose someone said "I can't help but think that you are the cause of this problem; we never had any problem with the furnace until you moved into the apartment." The manager of the apartment house, for no reason other than the temporal priority of the new tenant's occupancy, holds that the tenant's presence has some causal relationship to the furnace's becoming faulty.
This Pagan Deity argument commits this logical fallacy because it assumes that because these deities share similarities (they don’t, as you’ll see in a moment) that therefore the story of Jesus must be plagiarized from these deities. That doesn’t follow at all. It very well could be the case that the story of Jesus is historical fact even though some similar stories that preceded Him were somewhat similar. It certainly doesn’t rule out Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure. Even if there were similarities, that's not irrefutable proof of borrowing. You'd have to cough up some good evidence that there was this causal relationship of the Pagan myths birthing the Christian story. If you don't, then you're merely committing the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy (saying that because there are some similarities between 2 different stories that one must have copied from the other one).
At worst, if this argument succeeded, all it would do is prove that a story borrowed from earlier myths was applied to a historical figure.
Think about it. There was a movie a couple of years ago called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” which took an actual historical figure (Abraham Lincoln) and applied a fictitious story to him (that he was a vampire hunter). Several years before that, there was a TV series called “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Now, obviously there are similarities between Buffy and Lincoln in these two separate works of fiction. Does this mean that Lincoln plagiarized Buffy because of the similarities in their stories? Does it mean that Abe Lincoln wasn’t a real flesh and blood person just because a made up story was applied to him? Certainly not. In the same way, even if the biblical narrative about Jesus had plagiarized earlier pagan myths, it wouldn’t disprove the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. It would just mean that a fictitious story was applied to him. I say this because many people who use this pagan deity argument are Christ Mythicists who try to use this argument to disprove the historicity of Jesus, not just his deity or resurrection.
Or we could use another example, a parallel argument to show how foolish this type of reasoning is. Using the exact same reasoning, you could prove that John F. Kennedy was not a historical individual and was merely copied from Abraham Lincoln.
-Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
-Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
-Both were shot in the back of the head in the presence of their wives.
-Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
-Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
-The names Lincoln and Kennedy both have 7 letters.
-Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Abraham.
Since Abraham Lincoln existed before Kennedy, Kennedy was obviously made up from Lincoln. I hope you’re beginning to see how silly this is.
3: If Any Copying Was Done, It Was The Other Way Around.
Most of these pagan myths come about after Christianity sprouts up in Israel. AFTER. If any borrowing were to have been done it would have been that the Pagans copied from The Bible. Not the other way around. Most of these pagan god stories post date the rise of Christianity. Even if these skeptics had a point that the amazing similarities can be best explained as a result of plagiarism, the plagiarism would be in the opposite direction to the direction they’re claiming!
4: These “Similarities” Aren’t Similarities At All.
So, as you can see from all of the points I made above, even if there were similarities between Jesus and these pagan gods, it wouldn’t prove that the gospel message was copied from these pagan myths and it absolutely wouldn’t prove that Jesus wasn’t a historical individual. So, whether they’re similar or not, it doesn’t matter. But are they similar? No. They’re not. In fact, I’ve joked before that they’re so different that it’s like watching Dragon Ball Z and Spongebob Squarepants and claiming that the Spongebob cartoon is copied from the Dragon Ball Z anime!
How are they different, you might ask?
DEATH AND RESURRECTION?
Well, Horus' sacrificial death = he fought his father's arch enemy & lost an eye.
Jesus' sacrificial death = is crucified on a Roman cross.
PAGAN: Adonis died to the underworld for half of every year and raised to the upper world for half of every year.
CHRISTIAN: Jesus died, went to “paradise” (Luke 23:39-43) and then rose 3 days later. Jesus was resurrected once, and only once. Adonis was raised multiple times, in fact, once every year.
PAGAN: Osiris was chopped up into 14 different pieces. Afterwards, he was pieced back together and revived by the incantation & magic of several gods. He was brought “back to life” as King of the dead in the underworld. He didn’t even come back to the world of the living.
CHRISTIAN: Jesus died on a Roman cross and was resurrected by the miraculous intervention of Yahweh; the Jewish God. Jesus didn’t reign in the underworld, but came back to the physical world of living people.
PAGAN: Dionysus - Five stories
2. Mom pieced him together
3. Ascended to heaven after death
4. Zeus raised him up
5. Zeus swallowed heart
Heart made into potion given to
1.Predicted his death & resurrection (John 2:19)
2. Raised himself from dead to a redeemed, physical body as the first of the resurrection of all people
3. Jesus was seen by the 12 disciples; seen by over 500 at one time; James, Peter, and
Paul (1 Corinthians 15)
PAGAN: Mithras was born of a rock. Yes, a rock gave birth to Mithras. Now, I suppose that rock could have been a virgin. But then again, all rocks are virgins because rocks aren’t creatures who can even engage in coitus. Mary, on the other hand, was a human being who could have had coitus because human beings are creatures that can have coitus (thank Sheldon Cooper for teaching me that word).
CHRISTIAN: Jesus was born of a virgin girl who got pregnant by the miraculous decree of The Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, The “Jesus Was Copied From Pagan Deities” argument
1: Commits The Post-Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy.
2: Parallel Arguments show just how silly this type of argument is (Reductio ad absurdum)
3: The pagan stories post-date Christianity (at least the majority do, though some do predate Christianity)
4: They’re nothing alike.