A couple of days before Christmas in 2016, a headline ricocheted some media outlets: “5,000 Year old Nativity Scene found in Egypt.” It was a report of a reddish rock art found in 2005 by Marco Morelli, a geologist, in a small cave within the Sahara desert.
It showed a mother and father standing over a newborn, with two animals present and what looked like the sun (?) on the right side.
By terming this “a Nativity scene 3,000 before Christ,” the liberal media was baiting the prejudice of the season. In the painting, a lion was painted at its top and a monkey below. How does this tally with Christ’s birth recorded in the Bible?
Marco said, “When the baby is drawn above the parents, it usually resembles a birth or pregnancy in ancient Egyptian art.” Is this man an Egyptologist or why should he be taken as an authority?
You see, the conclusion fits a ready made narrative: to portray Christ as a copy of pre-Christian mythical gods like Horus, Baal and Attis.
That painting is more or less a coincidence; even if it was religious in nature, it fails to indicate ancient Egyptian religion was the prototype of Bible narratives.
A popular YouTube video Zeitgeist: The Movie, also attempts to parallel Jesus with ancient demi-gods worshipped prior to Jesus birth. Its narrator says:
“Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born saviour. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus has 12 disciples he travelled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water… After being betrayed by Tryphon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.”
There’s nothing new about these claims. They are old, disproved theories drawn from late 19th century agnostic works like T. W. Doane’s Bible Myths, George Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Arthur Weigall’s The Paganism in Our Christianity, which no scholar in this century takes with any degree of seriousness. They are urban legends and propaganda mush.
Josh McDowell in his work, A Ready Defense, listed 4 major fallacies committed by critics who make the “Jesus is a copy of ancient gods” claim.
a) Combinationism: they roll all ancient pagan religions and their deities into one box and assume they were monolithic, coherent and unified belief systems from 1500 B.C.- 400 A.D.
b) Colouring the evidence: they lace ancient myths with Christian terms to make them seem like prototypes of Christian beliefs.
c) Oversimplification: they select a common theme (such as resurrection) and claim that Christianity borrowed it from an ancient pagan myth while ignoring the wide conceptual differences between both.
d) Who influenced whom: critics assume that if there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as Christianity, the Christians must have borrowed it from the Eastern religion, since the religion’s founder lived first. They fail to consider that the Eastern religion absorbed Biblical narratives into their own myths.
With these logical fallacies in mind, let’s answer the arguments made in the Zeitgeist movie.
1. Ancient Egyptian religion wasn’t a coherent belief system that could be copied wholesale. As it evolved, so did its stories. The Oxford Guide: Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology says different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists.
Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality, hence had different perceptions of the same multi-layered deity, and they attached various attributes to each deity. There were different versions of Horus and Isis in the Kemet.
2. The movie’s narration of the myth of Horus was peppered with Christian terms like “baptized,” “disciples” and “ministry” to further their agenda.
There is no way ancient Egyptians would use such terms to refer to their religious rites.
The name “Anup” or “Asup” doesn’t occur in any major ancient text. Only one reference to baptism is made in an Egytptian text and it refers to a ritual coronation for the pharaoh (and it varied in age, rarely 30).
No reference work speaks of Horus and his baptism. These contrivances were deliberately made up by anti-Christians to mislead their audience to assume similarities where there are none.
3. There’s no extant record that says Horus was born on December 25.
In Plutarch’s account, Horus was born “about the time of the winter solstice … imperfect and premature” (Isis and Osiris, Loeb Classical Library, Vol. 5, 1936). This leaves a gap of weeks before or after December.
In our modern calendar, the winter solstice is Dec. 21/22, not Dec. 25. This even assumes that ancient Egypt used our modern calendar, because ancient myths don’t specify any date at all for the birth of their deities.
Notably, Jesus’ birth date is not known and celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25 has nothing to do with the winter solstice.
4. In Plutarch’s account, Isis used her magic powers to raise Osiris from the dead and fashion a golden phallus to conceive her son. Thus, it wasn’t a virgin birth as that of Christ.
5. Horus was not visited by any 3 kings; he didn’t teach in any temple; he had no 12 disciples and he didn’t heal the sick.
Horus battled Set for 80 years and won, finally becoming a patron of Lower Egypt. Horus wasn’t crucified either. Egyptian texts spoke of Isis and “describes the death of Horus through the sting of a scorpion … Thoth now appeared to her and advised her to hide herself with her unborn child” (The History of Isis and Osiris, Summary: VIII, lxxiv).
This incident occurred long before Horus’ adulthood and Thoth purged the venom from his body.
You see, once you consult the source of the myth, a vastly different picture is seen. This is why one way to refute such arguments is to ask for the original source or documentation of the myths. The critic will either become silent or sing another tune.
6. Horus did not resurrect from the dead. Egyptian myths said Osiris came to life again in Horus, but this is even far off the bat from Christ’s resurrection.
The critics claiming otherwise are oversimplifying the word “resurrection” and trying to parallel it with that of ancient Egypt. This is at best, intellectual dishonesty.
Some other enemies of the gospel allege that Christianity borrowed some ideas from Buddhism because Buddha was born before the time of Christ.
Femi Aribisala, a self-acclaimed “scholar” who seems to be seeking relevance on social media, alleged that Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” was plagiarised from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta Buddhist scriptures. But here is the quote:
“And now, brethren, I take my leave of you. All the constituents of being are transitory. Work out your salvation with diligence” (Digha Nikaya ii. 155-56 Mahaparinibbana Sutta).
Buddhists don’t believe in sin and their use of the term “salvation” is attaining nirvana or nothingness – a concept utterly remote from the Bible.
Comparing the dates of the written documents of Christianity and the religion from which the supposed plagiarism occurred quickly exposes the critic’s assertion.
Manuscript evidence shows that the New Testament was written between 50-90 A.D. On the other hand, the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) – though he lived about 5 centuries before Christ – were passed down orally.
These teachings became so fragmented and had variant interpretations that a council was held in the third century BC – hundreds of years after Buddha’s death – to purify his teachings:
“This council refuted the offending viewpoints and expelled those who held them. In the process, the compilation of the Buddhist scriptures (Tipitaka) was supposedly completed, with the addition of a body of subtle philosophy (abhidarhma) to the doctrine (dharma) and monastic discipline (vinaya) that had been recited at the first council” (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, “Buddhism”).
The earliest manuscript evidence of Buddhist teachings are fragments written on tree barks in 60 A.D. The Diamond manuscript, an early Buddhist text, is dated 868 A.D. – that is over one thousand years after Gautama lived.
During this time frame, however, the Bible had been completed and Christianity had spread extensively throughout the East and West, so if there was a borrowing or plagiarism, it must have been from Christianity to Buddhism.
Some critics have also claimed that Krishna, Attis and Baal were prototypes of Jesus, but when you compare the myths of these deities, you will be amazed to behold the critics’ feeble attempts to roll different idols of different ages, characteristics and natures into one and re-cast them in the mould of Jesus Christ.
A South African Muslim writer, A. S. K. Joomal, wrote that the Jesus of the Gospels was patterned after a Mexican idol, Quetzalcoatl who was also a saviour born of a virgin, tempted by Satan, fasted 40 days and was crucified and that the Mexicans looked forward to his second coming (The Bible: Word of God or Word of Man, p. 145).
Here, again, we see a cheap attempt to Christianize a pagan deity by employing loaded Christian words like “saviour,” “crucified” or “second coming.”
But here’s what the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (Crescent Books, NY, 1987, p. 430) says about Quetzalcoatl:
Quetzalcoatl, the Snake-bird, god of wind, master of life, creator and civiliser, patron of every art and inventor of metallurgy, was originally a deity of Chololan, but was driven out by the intrigues of Tezcatlipoca and decided to return to the old land of Tlapallan after the fall of the Tulla. He burned his houses, built of silver and shells, buried his treasure, and set sail on the Eastern sea preceded by his attendants who had been changed into bright-hued birds, after promising his people he would return to them. Ever since then sentries were stationed on the East coast to watch for the god’s return.
Once again, the original myth conflicts with the agenda-driven narratives of the Bible hater. These false accusations and sensational theories actually tell a lot about the ethics and character of those disseminating them.