Is the story of Jesus made up from another story?


There are many stories in the ancient world that sound very similar to the story of Jesus. Doesn't this mean that the early Christians just took parts of stories from other religions and wove them into a new story about Jesus Christ.

Summary answer

This idea has been well examined and shown to be false, indeed most historians consider this claim to have been disproved so conclusively that they seldom bother to mention it. It is clear from an examination of the evidence that the story of Jesus does not borrow from other older religions. The question boils down to one of which religion had the story first and in every instance it turns out the the Christian faith has the story before the others. However there is plenty of evidence to suggest that other religions took parts of the Christian story and attempted to incorporate them into their own religious traditions.

Fuller answer

The vast majority of scholars have agreed for a long time that there is no historical evidence to say that Christians simply copied their ideas from others and yet this idea still persists. This is a short introduction to the subject.

Is Christianity just ancient philosophy and religious ideas reconstituted

If you explore Jesus on the Internet you will come across all kinds of ideas about Jesus. Some people claim that Jesus is simply made up by early Christians. Some claim that Jesus is a copy of Julius Caesar, other claim he is a corruption of Mithras.

However, many of the claimed similarities are simply people reading into history things that are not there. Whenever someone makes such a claim they need to be able to back it up with solid evidence, it is not enough to say the lives are similar it must be proved.

It is important to look at the dates when some of these claimed similarities are first talked about in history. If they come after Jesus then there is no way that the Jesus story could have copied them. Just because someone was born before Jesus does not mean that the stories attached to them developed during their lifetime. We discover that as Christianity became more and more popular other religions started to adopt the Christian stories into their own in an effort to stay popular.

But aren't there other ancient religions that talk of a resurrected god?

Let's look at one claim that is central to the Christian faith, the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. It has been claimed that this is found in many other ancient legends but this is simply not true. All of the ancient legends where a god is claimed to be resurrected come after the Christians make this claim about Christ. This would mean that there is a possibility that if anyone has copied it is others copying from Christ.

To quote from Lee Strobel's Book the case for the real Jesus:

"... T.N.D. Mettinger - a senior Swedish scholar, professor at Lund University, and member of the Royal Academy of Letter, History, and Antiquities of Stockholm - wrote one of the most recent academic treatments of dying and rising gods in antiquity. He admits in this book The Riddle of Resurrection that the consensus among modern scholars - nearly universal - is that there were no dying and rising gods that preceded Christianity. They all post-dated the first century."

And also from Mettinger:

"There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world."

But aren't there older stories about gods who died at the end of summer and rose again at the end of winter?

There are indeed older stories that were used to explain the end and return of summer in the ancient world, but they were not resurrections and were never seen as such by the ancient world. In fact many scholars are now convinced that these were simple stories told to children to explain things about the world rather than actual believed philosophies. Also the death and resurrection of Christ is a once and for all occurrence whereas these were cycles that happened every year. The stories of Osiris (which probably do predate Christianity) who it is claimed rose from the dead in fact concern Osiris sent to the Underworld. The word or even concept of resurrection were never used in these stories. This is a very different thing to Jesus rising from the dead. The only way to make things fit is to bend the stories significantly - not a very convincing thing to do.

Because two peoples lives can be made to 'match' does not prove that one, or either, of them did not exist

If we found a story that was similar to the life history of Abraham Lincoln (and I'm sure there are some) would this prove that Abraham Lincoln was just a made up figure? Of course not. Just because a story can be made to fit a persons life (even if that story existed before they did) this does not mean that the person therefore did not exist. Now I know that my life story fits in with the life story of several people that I have known (not in every detail but enough) but this does not mean that I do not exist. This is just nonsense.

The Romans had a god called Mithras who some claim Christians copied Jesus from.

I've seen and heard many people claim that the Mithras myth fits the Christians story of Jesus exactly, I even heard it claimed on a couple of T.V. programs.

Very little is known about Mithras. Mithras is found first in Persia although there is a chance he came from somewhere else originally. Rome had a habit of integrating gods from conquered nations into their own collection of gods and this happened with Mithras. Much of the Mithras myth is confused because some of it comes from ancient Persia and the rest from Rome (when they seemed to want to bring the god into their own way of thinking - the Roman Mithras is very different to the Persian Mithras). Most of what we know about the Mithras cult appears after the gospels have been written. It is much more likely (if we believe that there are similarities, although most historians don't) that Mithras - when it believed Christianity was a threat - copied Christianity.

Professor Ronald Nash, Ph.D- a respected historian wrote:

"The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity". and

"Efforts to undermine the uniqueness of the Christian revelation via claims of a pagan religious influence collapse quickly once a full account of the information is available."

The claim is made that Mithras was born on 25th December and that Christians copied this date. It is true that the 25th December is the same day the church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ and this is the same day that Mithras' birth was celebrated, however, what is not clear is who used this date first. Of course Christians have never claimed that Jesus was actually born on Dec 25th this is just the date we celebrate his birth (the most likely date is September 29th although this could be wrong as well).

Then, it's claimed that Mithras was born in a cave and of a virgin - sound familiar? But Mithras was born out of a lump of rock (presumably leaving a cave behind) and its claimed that the rock is the virgin – technically true but it takes an enormous leap of intelligence to make this a copycat by Christians.

The truth is that given enough imagination it is possible to make anyone a copy of someone else. This is just fuzzy philosophy and not reality. Enemies of Christianity want this to be true because it lets them off the hook but there is no real evidence to support any of their theories.

What is perhaps particularly sad is that as far as the vast majority of historians are concerned this idea had been laid to rest decades ago but because of the rise of the Internet (and some very badly researched T.V. programs) it has come back and needs to be dealt with all over again.

I've added some web links at the end of this session if you want to explore these things in more detail.