One God Further: Is Christianity a Myth?
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16
Prominent atheist writer and speaker Richard Dawkins is fond of uttering the following sentence: "none of us believe in Zeus or Thor anymore. I simply go one god further.” By further god he is referring to the God of the Bible of course. He is making the claim that atheists can be comfortable with denouncing Christianity as just another myth. This argument sounds convincing at the outset. After all, we can’t necessarily go back in time to ancient Greece and interview anyone to see if they actually DID believe that Zeus threw lightning bolts and governed the heavens. Additionally, there has been an onslaught of recent books and movies that attempt to portray Christianity as a copy of certain ancient Pagan “mystery” religions from the past. Some even go so far as to say that there were records of ancient myths containing baptisms and resurrections (for example Horus, the mythical god of ancient Egypt).
One person I know told me that after he watched a stand-up comedian draw parallels between Jesus and Mithras, he formally recanted any belief in the Biblical God. Mithraism, by the way, became popular among Roman soldiers in the second century – too late to have influenced Christianity. But that fact never gets transmitted. Only that there were similarities between Christ and Mithras. But were there really?
It has been said that this Mithras god was born of a virgin. Sounds like a copy of Jesus already, right? However, we find scholars like Dr. Edwin Yamauchi with a doctorate in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis University reminding us that the actual legend states Mithras is born out of a rock. Some have tried to claim that Mithras traveled with 12 disciples, instructing them as a master would a student. Yamauchi reminds us that Mithras was a god, not a teacher. And on and on it goes.
Old Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife sound a little more convincing (to my mind), because at least they pre-date the appearance of Christ in first century Palestine. But the Egyptians believed that in order to attain immortality, the body had to be mummified, nourished, surrounded by necessary objects, and make use of certain spells. And all of this would still only guarantee entrance into the afterworld – not a resurrection here on Earth.
But pointing out all of these things may not be enough. If you have made up your mind already, then no proof will ever be sufficient, no matter which scholar of ancient writings is speaking. And I think that is really the issue here. I am not a PhD in Mediterranean studies or Greek mythology, but I always had the sense that equating Zeus or Dionysus to Jesus just sounded silly. At the heart of it (and my apologies if this is offensive), Pagan myth attribution is another excuse for some people to dismiss the original claims that Christianity makes. In essence this is like saying if you can find something in history to draw upon that has some similarities to the resurrection or immortality, then it is safe to discount Christ as just another dying and rising god. There is nothing special about Him. But the problem is that when we dig a little deeper, we find that the majority (if not all) of those mystery religions and Pagan myths took hold AFTER the beginning of the first century. They occurred too late to have influenced The Bible.
We are still faced with the uniqueness of Christ. Because if He was not a myth, then we are forced once again to look at the things He said, and weigh them on their own merits. On this note I can sympathize, because trying to live the Christian walk isn’t easy. Struggling with the things Jesus said can be quite a challenge. But that doesn’t mean we get to discount Christianity and explain it away as some copy of an obscure religion. I don't think an accurate account of history will let us off the hook that easily.
* I would recommend The Case for the Real Jesus if you are interested in further reading. Much of the technical content from above (facts and timelines) were taken from that book. Author Lee Strobel has put together a powerful tool for those who are in search of the truth as it pertains to the claims of Christianity and the Bible.