Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth

By John G. Jackson (Originally published in 1941)


Part Two: The Christ Myth

The triumph of the doctrine of evolution has reconciled the more literate Christians to the non-historicity of Adam. As the historicity of Jesus, however, is now widely questioned, even the most liberal defenders of the faith find themselves in a very uncomfortable position, being belabored by both fundamentalists and ultra-rationalists alike. After surrendering the theological Christ, the liberal Christian apologist finds out, much to his chagrin, that practically nothing is known about the historical Jesus. Our chief sources of information concerning Jesus Christ are the so-called genuine Pauline Epistles and references to Jesus by Jewish and pagan writers, but most of these are of extremely doubtful authenticity.

There is a famous passage in The Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Jesephus,1 in which reference is made to Jesus Christ, but it is generally regarded as a forgery, even by Christian scholars. The passage is not mentioned by any Christian writer before Eusebius, in the early part of the fourth century.

Cornelius Tacitus, the Roman historian, in his celebrated Annals,2 refers to the burning of Rome in 64 A.D. and the Neroian persecution of the Christians. He describes them as a "vast multitude" and says that the cult was founded by Christus, who was punished as a criminal by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. Eusebius3 made a list of Jewish and pagan references to Christianity, but Tactus is not mentioned by him. In fact, the passage in question was not quoted by any Christian writer before the fifteenth century. Pliny the younger, proconsul of Bithynia, wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Tragan (early second century), in which he reported the presence in his province of a group of people who gathered before daybreak on a certain day and sang hymns to Christ as a god. There is no evidence that this Christ was the Jesus of the Gospels. The Emperor Hadrian in a letter to the Consul Servianus (A.D. 134), asserts that the worshippers of the sun-god Serapis, in Egypt, were Christians, and that these sun-worshippers called themselves "Bishops of Christ." The worship of Serapis was imported into Egypt from Pontus, a province bordering on Bithynia. The Christians mentioned by Pliny the Younger4 were in all probability worshippers of Serapis.

Suetonius5 in his "Life of Claudius" relates that "He (Claudius) drove the Jews, who at the instigation of Christas were constantly rioting, out of Rome." This is said to have taken place about fifteen years after the crucifixion of Jesus. So Chistas could hardly have been Jesus Christ. Philo, an eminent Jewish philosopher and historian, was a contemporary of Christ, but makes no mention of Jesus. Philo developed the doctrine of the Logos, and although according to Christian theology Jesus Christ was the Logos, he was not aware of the identity. Justus of Tiberias, a native of Galilee, wrote a history covering the period in which Justus is said to have lived, but does not in any instance call the name of the Christ. The works of Justus have now all perished, but they were read by Photius, a Christian bishop and scholar, of Constantinople (ninth century). Says Photius: "He (Justus) makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful work that he did.6 The paucity of our information concerning the Christian savior is concisely expressed by Mr. Robert Keable, in his work, The Great Galilean:

No man knows sufficient of the early life of Jesus to write a biography of him. For that matter, no one knows enough for the normal Times obituary notice of a great man. If regard were had to what we should call, in correct speech, definitely historical facts, scarcely three lines could be filled. Moreover, if newspapers had been in existence, and if that obituary notice had had to be written in the year of his death, no editor could have found in the literature of his day so much as his name. Yet few periods of the ancient world were so well documented as the period of Augustus and Tiberius. But no contemporary knew of his existence. Even a generation later, a spurious passage in Josephus, a questionable reference in Suetonius, and the mention of a name that may be his by Tacitus—that is all. His first mention in any surviving document, secular or religious, is twenty years after.

The so-called genuine Pauline Epistles, in the New Testament, are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. The other letters attributed to St. Paul are regarded as spurious. The genuine Epistles were written from about A.D. 52 to 64.

The dates of origin of the Four Gospels have been estimated as follows: Mark—A.D. 70 to 100; Luke—about A.D. 100; Matthew—A.D. 100 to 110; John—sometime between A.D. 100 and 160. That these Gospels stories are replete with inaccuracies and contradictions is obvious to all who read with a discerning eye. In Mathew 2:1, we are told that Jesus Christ was born "in the days of Herod." But in Luke 2:2, were are told that the Christ child first saw the light of day, "when Cyrenious was governor of Syria." There is here a discrepancy of at least ten years, for Herod died in the year 4. B.C. while Cyrenius, or Quirinius, as he is known in Roman history, did not become governor of Syria until the year A.D. 7. According to the Rev. Dr. Giles, in his Hebrew and Christian Records: "We have no clue to either the day or the time of year, or even the year itself, in which Christ was born." Matthew 1:6–16 lists twenty-eight generations from David to Jesus while Luke 3:23–38 tabulates forty-three. According to John, Jesus visited Jerusalem at least four times, but the Synoptics (Mark, Luke and Matthew) assure us that he journeyed to that city only once. As to the length of the Jesus' ministry the Synoptics say one year, but John says at least three years. From the Synoptical account, we gather that the savior carried out his work chiefly in Galilee, but John informs us that Judea was the principal theater of the ministry of Christ.

The hour of the crucifixion is likewise uncertain. One account fixes the time at the third hour (9 A.M.).7 Another account says it occurred at about the sixth hour (Noon).8 It is alleged that Jesus predicted that he would sojourn in the tomb for three days and three nights.9 But in the Synoptic accounts of the event, as it is said to have actually happened, the time is given as two nights and one day, i.e., one day and a half.

Should we inquire as to who visited the tomb first, we receive four different answers. John says one woman; Mathew, two women; Mark, three women; and Luke, a crowd of women. When we ask whom did the women meet at the tomb, we again receive four replies. Matthew asserts that they saw one angel, whereas Mark declares it was one young man. According to Luke, the women saw two men. And John says that they saw two angels. These women also saw Jesus, if we believe Matthew (chapter 28). If we give credence to Like (chapter 24), the women did not see Jesus.

Nor do these inspired scribes display unanimity regarding the number of days between the resurrection and the ascension. The elapsed time was only one day, if we follow Luke, and at least ten days if we take the work of John. The Book of Acts extends the period to forty days. Since both the Gospel according to Luke and the Book of Acts are said to have been written by the Author, these discrepancies are very puzzling, to say the least. According to Holy Writ, Jesus the Christ terminated his earthy pilgrimage by ascending to heaven. The exact location of his departure, it seems, it unknown. The ascension took place in Jerusalem, if Mark wrote correctly. Not so, if Luke knew whereof he spoke, for he relates that it was at Bethany. Acts (1:12) gives Mt. Olivet as the scene of the momentous event. Let it be noted that Matthew and John make no mention of the ascension; that it occurs in Mark in the Spurious Addendum (the last twelve verses, which were not in the original manuscript), and that Luke's version does not appear in the Codes Sinaiticus, a fourth-century manuscript now in the British Museum. The Gospel writers advance three views as to the nature of Jesus. Mark regards him as the Son of Man. Matthew and Luke hail him as the Son of God, while John recognizes him as God himself.

A consideration of pagan parallels will put the Gospel records in a clearer light. Let us become as little children, and travel backwards in time, with a venerable bishop as our guide:

Suppose you had been a child living in Rome 1940 years ago; that is, a few years before Jesus is supposed to have been born. About a week before December twenty-fifth, you could have found everybody preparing for a great feast, just as they do in Europe today. To those Romans December twenty-fifth was the birthday of the sun. They wrote that in gold letters in their calendar. Every year about that time, the middle of winter, the sun was born once more and it was going to put an end to the darkness and misery of winter. So they had a great feast, with presents and dolls for everybody, and the best day of all was December twenty-fifth. That feast, they would tell you, was thousands of years old—before Christ was ever heard of. …

Just outside Rome there was an underground temple of the Persian God Mithra. Well, at midnight, the first minute of December twenty-fifth, you would have seen that temple all lit up with candles, and priests in white garments at the altar, and boys burning incense; exactly as you will see in a Roman Catholic church at midnight on December twenty-fourth in our own time. And the worshippers of Mithra would have told you that Mithra was a good God who had come from heaven to be born as a man and redeem men from their sins; and he was born in a dark cave or stable on December twenty-fifth.

Then suppose you asked somebody where the Egyptians who lived in Rome had their temple. You would have found these also celebrating the birth of their saviour-god Horus who was born of a virgin in a stable on December twenty-fifth. In the temple you would find a statue of figure of the infant-god Horus lying in a manger, and a statue of his virgin-mother Isis standing beside it; just as in a Roman Catholic church on Christmas day you will find a stable or cave rigged up and the infant Jesus in a manger and a figure of Mary beside it.

Then you might go to the Greek temple, and find them paying respect to the figure of their saviour-god in a manger or cradle. And if you found the quarters of the gladiators, the war-captives from Germany, you would have found these also holding a feast, and they would explain that December twenty-fifth (or mid-winter) was, all over Europe, the great feast of Yule, or the Wheel, which means that the sun had turned back, llike a wheel, and was going once more to redeem men from the hell of winter to the heaven of summer.10


Footnotes

  1. Flavius Josephus (ca A.D. 37–A.D. 100), Jewish historian, The Works of Flavius Josephus: Comprising the Antiquities of he Jews; A History of the Jewish Wars; and Life of Flavius Josephus, written by himself, 2 vols. Trans. William Whiston (Philadelphia: Jas. B. Smith & Co., 1859).
  2. Cornelius Tacitus (ca 56—ca 120), Roman historians Annals, trans. Arthur Murphy (London; Jones & Co., 1830).
  3. Eusebius (ca 260—ca 339), theologian and church historian, bishop of Caesarea, Eccliesiastical History, trans. C. F. Cruse (London: George Bell & Sons, 1874).
  4. Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus [Pliny the ] Younger (A.D. 61 [or 62]–ca A.D. 113) "Letters to the Emperor Trajan," Letters of The Younger Pliny, 2 vols. (1978 reprint; Philadelphia: R. West).
  5. G. Suetonius Tranquillus (ca A.D. 69–after 122), Roman biographer and historian, Lives of the First Caesars (reprint 1976; New York: AMS Press, 1970).
  6. Photius (ca 820–891), patriarch of Constantinople (858–876 and 878–886), Codices.
  7. Mark 15:25.
  8. Luke 23:44.
  9. Matthew 12:40.
  10. Bishop William Montgomery Brown, Science and History for Girls and Boys (Galion, OH: The Bradford-Brown Educational Company, 1932), pp. 138–139.f

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