Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth

By John G. Jackson (Originally published in 1941)


Part Four: Sources of the Christ Myth

There are two principal types of savior-gods recognized by hierologists, namely: vegetation-gods and sun-gods. The vegetation theory has been brilliantly developed by Sir James George Frazer, in his Golden Bough,1 and by Grant Allen in The Evolution of the Idea of God.2 This viewpoint is concisely summarized by the noted psychologist Dr. David Forsyth:

Many gods besides Christ have been supposed to die, be resurrected and ascend to heaven. This idea has now been traced back to its origin among primitive people in the annual death and resurrection of crops and plant life generally. This explains the world-wide prevalence of the notion. Among still more primitive tribes, as Grant Allen showed, it is not yet understood that sown corn sprouts because of the spring sunshine, and they attribute the result to divine agency. To this end they are accustomed at seed time to kill their tribal god—either in human or animal form—and scatter the flesh and the blood over the sown fields. They believe that the seeds will not grow unless the god is sacrificed and added to them in this manner. When, therefore, the crops appears, they never doubt that it is their god coming to life again. It is from this erroneous belief of primitive tribes that Christianity today derives its belief in Christ's Death and Resurrection.3

According to the advocates of the solar myth theory, the ancient crucified saviors were personifications of the sun, and their life-stories were allegories of the sun's passage through the twelve constellations of the Zodiac.4 The astronomical elements in the Christian Epic are pointed out by Edward Carpenter with characteristic lucidity:

The Passover, the greatest feast of the Jews, borrowed from the Egyptians, handed down to become the supreme festival of Christianity, … is, as well known, closely connected with the celebration of the Spring Equinox and the passing over of the Sun from south to north of the equator, i.e., from his winter depression to his summer dominion. The Sun, at the moment of passing the equinoctial point, stood three thousand years ago in the Zodiacal constellation of the Ram, or he-lamb. The Lamb, therefore, became the symbol of the young triumphant god. … At an earlier date—owing to the precession of the equinoxes—the Sun at the spring passage stood in the constellation of the Bull; so, in the older worships of Egypt, and of Persia and of India, it was the Bull that was sacred and the symbol of god. … In the representation of the Zodiac in the Temple of Denderah (in Egypt) the figure of Virgo is annotated by a smaller figure of Isis with Horus in her arms; and the Roman Church fixed the celebration of Mary's assumption into the glory at the very date (15th August) of the said constellation's disappearance from sight in the blaze of the solar rays, and her birth on the date (8th Sept.) of the same constellation's reappearance. … Jesus himself … is purported to have been born like the other sungods, Baccus, Apollo, Osiris, on the 25th day of December, the day of the Sun's rebirth, i.e., the first day which obviously lengthens after the 21st of December.5

Vegetation cults, it seems are older than stellar or solar cults, but were later blended with them. In the primitive vegetation-god sacrifice, the victim was, it is believed, originally the king, or head-man, of the tribe or clan. It was believed by ancient man that the prosperity of the tribe depended on the well-being of the ruler. If the king became old and feeble, it was considered a foregone conclusion that the nation or tribe would suffer a similar decline. So the king, who was usually regarded as a god in human form, was sacrificed, and replaced with a younger and more vigorous man. After much passage of time, the son of the king was substituted in the sacrificial rite, and being also the offspring of divinity, he was properly called the son of the god. At a still later period, a condemned criminal was chosen in the place of the royal victim. This culprit was given regal honors for a time, then put to death. He was generally slain while bound to a sacred tree, with arms outstretched in the form of a cross. After being entombed, he was believed to rise from the dead within three days; the three-day period representing the return of vegetation. The question naturally arises: Why three days? The answer is, that the three-day period is based on the three-day interval between the Old and New Moons.6 It is still believed by certain persons of a superstitious type that there is an intimate connection between the phases of the moon and the growth of crops.

According to the Chaldean historian Berosus, there was a religious festival celebrated annually in ancient Babylon, known as the Sacaea. The duration of the fete was five days, and for that length of time servants and masters exchanged places in society, the servants giving orders and the masters obeying them. The king temporarily abdicated the throne, and a mock-king called Zoganes reigned in his place. But after the five days were over, the mock-king was dethroned and scourged, and then either hanged or crucified. An eminent Egyptologist has noted that:

The victims of these human sacrifices were generally crucified, or else killed and then "hung on a tree," until the evening. In this regard it is interesting to notice that in Acts the writer mistakenly speaks of Jesus as having been slain and then hanged on a tree, as though this were a common phrase coming readily to his mind; and the word "hanged" is frequently used in Greek to denote curcifixion.7

Among the advocates of the non-historicity of Jesus, John M. Robertson and L. Gordon Rylands are widely known. In his Evolution of Christianity, 8 Mr. Rylands contends that the name Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua. Joshua, it seems, was an ancient Hebrew sun-god, who was demoted to the status of a man by the priests of the Yahweh cult. However, the worship of Joshua was continued in secret by his devotees, until the fall of Jerusalem. After that event, secrecy was no longer necessary, so that the Joshua cult again came out into the open. The sacrificed Jesus, or Joshua, according to Robertson and Rylands, was not a historical personage, but a character in a mystery play. "What is clear," declares Mr. Robertson,

is that the central narrative of the gospel biography, the story of the Last Supper, The Agony, Betrayal, Trial, and Crucifixion, is neither a contemporary report nor a historical tradition, but the simple transcript of a Mystery-Drama.9

The views of Rylands and Robertson have been challenged by Joseph McCabe10 and Sir Arthur Weigall. Mr. McCabe holds that it is more reasonable to conclude from the available evidence that Jesus did actually live; that he was a man who was gradually turned into a god. Sir Arthur Weigall counters the mythicists with a very ingenious theory. According to Sir Arthur, when Jesus was crucified he did not die, but only swooned; and that afterwards he was revived by his friends and spirited away. The Matthew narrator tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees requested Pilate to station a guard of Roman soldiers at the tomb of Jesus: "Lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, he is risen from the dead." It is stated in the Bible account that the guard was not placed at the tomb until the second night after the burial of Jesus. Weigall suggests that Jesus was taken out of the tomb on the first night; so that the soldiers stood watch over an empty sepulchre. Since the report was abroad that Jesus had died on the cross, accounts of subsequent appearances must have convinced many persons that he had risen from the dead.

The myths and legends concerning such pagan christs as Osiris, Horus, Adonis, Krishna, etc., were later interpolated into the biography of Jesus. The famous dramatist, George Moore, in his play "The Apostle," also depicts Jesus as surviving the crucifixion. Finally Paul meets Jesus in a monastery, whence Jesus had fled into exile. When Paul discovered that Jesus had not died on the cross, and as a result had not risen from the dead, he became furious, and in a fit of temper, slew Jesus. This is a symbolic way of showing that historic Christianity is based on the teachings of St. Paul rather than on those of Jesus; that the influence of Paul triumphed over that of Jesus in the early church.

Whether Jesus lived or not, we may conclude with certainty that Christianity is of pagan origin. December the twenty-fifth is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ. This date is an approximation of the Winter Solstice, and the birthday of several pagan sun-gods. Its pagan derivation is beyond all dispute. "The Gospels say nothing as to the day of Christ's birth," declares Sir James George Frazer,

and accordingly the early Church did not celebrate it. In time, however, the Christians of Egypt came to regard the sixth of January as the date of the Nativity, and the custom of commemorating the birth of the Savior on that day gradually spread until by the fourth century it was universally established in the East. But at the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century the Western Church, which had never recognized the sixth of January as the day of the Nativity, adopted the twenty-fifth of December as the true date, and in time its decision was accepted also by the Eastern Church.11

The reason why the change was made is best stated by an ancient Syrian writer, who was himself a Christian. Says he:

The reason why the fathers transferred the celebration of the sixth of January to the twenty-fifth of December was this. It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same twenty-fifth of December the birthday of the Sun, at which time they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day and the festival of the Epiphany on the sixth of January. Accordingly, along with this custom, the practice had prevailed of kindling fires till the sixth.

Easter is likewise of heathen origin. It is an approximation of the Vernal Equinox. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox (the twenty-first of March), or as late as the twenty-fifth of April. The very name of the festival betrays its pagan source, for Easter is a variant of Eostre or Ostara, the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. The Festival of Sr. George takes place on April 23. It is a Christian replica of the ancient Parilia, or Birthday of Rome. St. George was originally the Egyptian god, Horus, who slew the Egyptian devil, Set, in the form of a dragon. The Festival of All Souls is a Christian copy of the ancient Egyptian Feast of the Lamps, and as Arthur Weigall observes:

Christians unconsciously perpetuate the worship of Osiris and the commemoration of all his subjects in the Kingdom of the Dead.12

The mysterious doctrine of the Trinity loses the character of mystery when we consider its origin. In ancient Egypt the Sun was worshipped as a god. Since there can be no life without sunlight, the Sun was recognized as the Creator of life, and since without adequate sunlight living things wither and die, the Sun was regarded as the Protector, or preserver of life. An excess of sunlight destroys life, so that the Sun was also known as the Destroyer of life. The Sun, considered in its three aspects of Creator, Protector, and Destroyer, was indeed a Trinity in Unity. Solar and stellar symbolism have profoundly affected the Christian religion. For instance, in the Apocalypse, we read of the Four Beasts and the Four Horsemen. Taken literally the narrative does not make sense, but when we learn that the beasts are zodiacal constellations and the horsemen, planets, we get a much clearer perception of the matter. In Revelation 4:7, we read that:

And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

These animals were the constellations that were situated at the four cardinal points of the Zodiac five thousand years ago. They were Taurus the Bull (Vernal Equinox), Leo the Lion (Summer Solstice), Scorpio the Scorpion (Autumnal Equinox), and Aquarius the Waterman (Winter Solstice). The reader will notice that in the Bible the Eagle has been substituted for the Scorpion. According to Sir Godfrey Higgins:

The signs of the Zodiac, with the exception of the Scorpion, which was exchanged by Dan for the Eagle, were carried by the different tribes of the Israelites on their standards; and Taurus, Leo, Aquarius, and Scorpio of the Eagle, the four signs of Reuben, Judah, Ephraim, and Dan, were placed at the four corners—the four cardinal points—of their encampment, evidently in allusion to the cardinal points of the sphere, the equinoxes and solstices, …13

Now for the Horsemen and their steeds. The first horseman is a conqueror, armed with a bow and wearing a crown, and riding a white horse. (This is the planet Venus.) The second horse is red, and on it is a warrior with a sword. (The read planet is of course mars, worshipped by the ancients as the god of war.) The third horse is black (the planet Saturn), and his rider holds a pair of balances aloft. (The balances may be emblematic of the zodiacal constellation Libra, for the sun was in that constellation when day and night were equal, just as though weighed on a pair of scale pans.) The fourth horse is of a pale complexion (pale green or blue-green, the color of the planet Mercury), and astride him sits Death. (The ancient Babylonians built their temples in seven stages, each of a different color, representing the sun, the moon, and the five planets visible to the naked eye. The colors of the four horses point to their origin in the astrological lore of Babylonia.)

The sacred monogram Chi-Rho, so called because composed of the Greek letters chi (C ) and rho (R ), is of Egyptian origin. According to Sir Flinders Petrie, the Egyptologist, the monogram Chi-Rho was the emblem of the Egyptian god, Horus, thousands of years before Christs.

The letters IHS constitute another sacred monogram of Christ. These letters were also the sacred symbol of the Greek sun-god Baccus, or Dionysus. The Christians adopted them as they did many other symbols from the pagans. These letters form the root of the name Jesus. HIS when translated from Greek to Latin becomes IES. Adding the Latin masculine suffix, US, we get IES plus US, which equals IESUS. In English the I becomes J, hence we get JESUS.

Many incidents of the Gospel stories can be explained only as myths. We read of Satan leading Jesus to the mountain top. The devil has been represented in Jewish and Christian folklore and art in the form of a goat. We see Satan in Medieval paintings with the hooves, horns, and tail of a goat. The Greek god Pan was part goat, and is represented as leading Zeus to the mountain top. In ancient Babylon the goat was the emblem of the zodiacal constellation Capricorn. The sun reached the lowest point in the celestial sphere in this constellation, after which it began to climb toward the highest point. So the goat-god is imagined to lead the sun-god toward the highest point, figuratively called the mountain top.

In Greek mythology we read of the savior Dionysus riding upon two asses, which afterwards he had changed into celestial constellations. Jesus is pictured as riding into Jerusalem upon the two asses, i.e., upon as ass and colt, the foal of an ass.14 In Babylonia the symbol of the zodiacal constellation Cancer, in which the sun reached the highest point of its apparent path, was the ass and foal.

The signs and constellations of the Zodiac have been referred to several times in this essay, so it is advisable that we consider their origin and meaning. The Zodiac is an imaginary band encircling the celestial sphere. It stretches eight degrees on each side of the Ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun. The Zodiac is divided into twelve equal sections, each corresponding to one month. Due to the annual revolution of the earth, the sun appears to make one complete circuit through the Zodiac in one year, staying in each sign one month. The signs of the Zodiac and the constellations of the Zodiac were originally the same, but due to the precession of the equinoxes, each sign moves westward into the next constellation in about 2155 years. A sign therefore makes a complete circuit of the heavens in about 26,000 years. We are told by Professor Harding, the noted astronomer and mathematician, that the signs and constellations of the Zodiac coincided about 300 B.C., and before that about 26,000 B.C. Since they were widely known thousands of years before 300 B.C., they evidently originated not later than about 26,000 B.C.15

The constellations of the Zodiac have the following names: Aries (the Ram or Lamb), Taurus (the Bull or Ox), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin), Libra (the Balances), Scorpio (the Scorpion), Sagittarius (the Archer), Capricornus (the Goat), Aquarius (the Water-carrier), Pisces (the Fishes). The following speculations on the origin of the names of the constellations are about as accurate as any list which might be complied, the majority of students of the subject being in general agreement upon them. The constellations of the Lamb, the Bull, and the Twins, were star groups through which the sun passed in the spring, in which time of he year occurred the seasons of sheep-raising, ploughing, and goat-breeding. The Twins were originally the two-kids, since the young of goats are frequently born two at a time. The Crab was so called because the sun reached its most northern point in that constellation, and then returned toward the south, figuratively moving backward like a crab. The Lion is the star group through which the sun moved in July, when its heat was most powerful, being compared with the most ferocious of the beasts. The Virgin is an emblem of he harvest season, when the young girls were sent out to glean in the fields. The Balance is the constellation in which the sun moved when day and night were equal in length, just as if they were weighed in a balance. The stars of the Scorpio were hidden by the sun during the season of unhealthy weather and of plagues, which were imagined to strike like a scorpion. Stars called the Archer reigned over the hunting season, when the hunter shot game with the bow and arrow. In the Goat the sun reached the lowest point in its course, after which it began to climb toward the north again, just as the wild goat climbs toward the summit of the hill. The Water-Carrier marked the position of the solar orb during the rainy season. The stars of the Fishes constituted that group through which the sun passed when the fishing season was at its height.

Many learned Christian scholars do not believe that Jesus had any idea of starting a new religion or of establishing a church. They believe that the real founder of institutional Christianity was St. Paul. Yet we read of Jesus referring to Peter as the rock upon which the church is to be built. St. Peter is also popularly represented as the gate-keeper of heaven. The name Peter comes from the Greek word Petra, which means "Rock." This may be a pseudonym, since he is also referred to as Simon called Peter. That is, he may have been named Simon, and was called the Rock because of some trait of character, just as General Stonewall Jackson was so called because he stood up against the enemy like a stone wall. It is interesting to note that there was a popular Semitic god named Simon, and that the Egyptian god, Petra, was represented as being the door-keeper of heaven, the earth and the underworld.

In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus is presented in the office of the Judge of the Dead: "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son." (John 5:22). Osiris enacted this role in the Egyptian religion. He is shown on the monuments occupying the judgement seat, and holding the staff of authority and the crux ansata; and on his breast is a St. Andrew's cross. His throne is designed like a chessboard, the two colors representing the good and evil which come before him for judgment. The trial of the soul before Osiris in the Hall of Judgement is described in detail in the Book of the Dead.16 According to the Hindus, Krishna will occupy the judgement seat on the last day.

 As the stories of slain and risen gods are traced backward into the dim and distant past, we finally come to Africa. One of the oldest religious celebrations of the ancient Egyptians was the Sed Festival. Sir Flinders Petrie explains it as follows:

A special festival of the identity of the king with Osiris seems to have been celebrated every thirty years, and a greater festival of the same nature every one-hundred and twenty years. These periods are the lapse of a week and a month in the shifting calendar. The festival was called the sed or tail feast, as marking the end of a period. From the various representations, it has been gathered that at stated times the king was killed to prevent his old age impairing the fertility of the country, an African belief.17

The earliest religion of Egypt has been traced back to Central Africa. "The oldest structure of the people," says Petrie,

was that which resembled the African in beliefs and practices. There is a large body of customs, especially those concerning the dead, which are closely alike in ancient Egypt and modern Central Africa. In this stratum, probably preceding 10,000 B.C., animal worship was usual; so strong was the primitive influence that this remained in practice down to the Roman age. The source of this was a sense of kinship of men and animals.18

The same high authority, Flinders Petrie, further states,

that the religion, like the population of Egypt, was always being mixed by successive migrations of invaders. The old African ideas which underlay it all still survive in Central Africa.19

Limitations of both time and space prevent a more extended survey of this subject. The author hopes that some of the readers of this essay will find the time to make a critical study of Christian origins. Comparative religion is a fascinating study, and all students of human history should be well grounded in the fundamental principles of this important branch of social anthropology.


Footnotes

  1. Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 13 vols. (London: Macmillan Company, 1951).
  2. Grant Allen, The Evolution of the Idea of God: An Inquiry into the Origins of Religion (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1897).
  3. David Forsyth, Psychology and Religion London 1935, p. 97.
  4. This hypothesis is ably presented in the following works: C. F. Volney, The Ruins, or Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires and the Law of Nature trans. Joel Barlow (New York: Peter Eckler Press, 1890); Charles F. Dupuis, The Origin of All Religious Worship (New Orleans: 1872); Edward Carpenter, Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1920); Derald Massey, Pagan Christs; idem, Christianity and Mythology; Arthur Drews; The Christ Myth (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1910); T. W. Doane; Bible Myths; Rev. Dr. Richard B. Westbrook, The Eliminator and his The Bible—Whence and What (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1890).
  5. Edward Carpenter, Love's Coming of Age (New York, 1926), pp.146–149.
  6. Frazer, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, p. 29.
  7. Sir Arthur Weigall, The Paganism in Our Christianity (New York and London, 1928), pp. 77–78.
  8. L. Gordon Rylands, The Evolution of Christianity (London: Watts & Co., 1927).
  9. J. M. Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, 2nd rev. ed. (London: Watts & Co., 1913), p. 12.
  10. McCabe, Joseph, The Story of Religious Controversy (Boston: The Stratford Co., Publishers, 1929).
  11. Frazer, The Golden Bough, p.358.
  12. Weigall, The Paganism in Our Christianity, p. 127.
  13. Higgins, Anacalypsis, vol. 2, P. 105.
  14. Matthew 21:5–7.
  15. See Professor Arthur M. Harding, Astronomy (Garden City, NY, 1935).
  16. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead, The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of ANI (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, Inc., 1960).
  17. Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie, Ancient Egyptians, vol, 11 of Herbert Spencer's Descriptive Sociology, p. 41.
  18. Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie, The Gods of Ancient Egypt, in Hammerton's Wonders of the Past (New York, 1937), p. 667.
  19. Ibid., p. 678.

Previous Part | John G. Jackson Virtual Museum | Virtual Museums of the Masters
FRONTal View: An Electronic Journal of African Centered Thought
NBUF Homepage | DuBois Learning Center Homepage