The Christ Myth: Part 1 – Mithras

Was Jesus merely a borrowed Savior from an ancient religion dressed up to be a Jew?

Mithra(s) is a Persian deity which can first be dated to about 1400B.C., the name being mentioned in a treaty.  Later he is imported into Rome, and according to several propagandists is the blueprint for the figure of the Jesus Christ we know today.  He was the deity who punished you if you broke a contract.  He also brought rain, and plant growth.  He was the upholder of truth.

Let’s take a look at the proposed similarities.

 

Virgin Birth

The first point of contention is that Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th, attended by shepherds, and that Christians adopted this for their deity.

The first problem with this is that it was the Roman emperor Aurelian who fixed December 25th for the winter solstice holiday in AD 274.  Early Christians did not celebrate the birth of Christ, and later on, the church chose to do so and picked this date simply because so many other religions and traditions used this date for a holiday.

The Bible nowhere indicates that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th.  The earliest known observance of Christmas on December 25th was the year AD 336 in Rome, as recorded in a calendar of the period.

While Mithra had several holidays celebrated about him, they were all in the fall, and were actually just seasonal festivals at which Mithra was paid homage almost as an afterthought.

How was Mithra born?  Texts and depictions of the event show him emerging from solid rock, and I suppose one could attempt to make the argument that the stone was virginal, but it is disingenuous to claim he was born of a virgin as there is no evidence except modern wishful thinking to corroborate this.  What we have handed down to us by those that worshipped him is that he emerged fully formed from a rock wall, carrying a torch, and wearing a cute little Phrygian hat.

What about the attending shepherds?  Well in the depictions we have, they help him free himself from the rock wall.  Did the early Christians borrow this?  Considering that the earliest of these depictions date to a century after the time of Christ, if there was any borrowing done, it was on the part of the Mithraic cult.  So no attending shepherds either.

Traveling Ministry Preaching and Teaching

While Jesus travels and ministry are recorded in great detail, there is no evidence at all that Mithra did so.  And even if he did, it was commonplace for teachers to travel from place to place to share what they knew.

What did he teach?  Where did he teach?  To whom did he teach?  Nothing is recorded to give us any indication that he did so or that his believers believed he did so.

Twelve Disciples

The record tells us quite succinctly that Jesus had twelve companions, or disciples, that traveled with Him.  There is no doubt about that.  But was this copied from the religion surrounding Mithra?

It doesn’t seem to be.  The Persian Mithra had only a single companion called Varuna, while the Roman traditions records two, named Cautes and Cautopatres which were miniature versions of Mithra.

So once again, any accusation of the adoption of religious imagery and details taken from Mithra disappears with the facts.

The Promise of Immortality

This one seems a bit crude, but just about any cult must promise their followers something.  It would seem only reasonable that the cult of Mithra did so as well.  But we don’t know that they did so, there is no evidence that they did so.  The closest piece of evidence we have that Mithraists preached immortality is a fragment of graffiti found in the Santa Prisca Mithraeum dated to about 200A.D. which reads “And us, too, you saved by spilling the eternal blood.” which refers to Mithra slaying the mighty bull, not to his losing his own life.

Working Miracles

This is kind of a moot point.  Mithra, having claims to deity, had miracles attributed to him.  But did Christians borrow this for Christ?  Why would they?  Moses performed miracles, and Elijah performed miracles, Jewish tradition is rife with acts of the miraculous.  And Mithra had no acts attributed to him such as Christ did as in walking on water or raising people who had been dead.

Nothing borrowed here.

Sacrifice of Self for the World

While the record of Jesus Christ is clear about this matter, the record of Mithra is not.  Many try to make the claim that Mithra, the great bull of the Sun, sacrificed himself for the world.  But we have no evidence that the ancient followers of Mithra believed this about him.  In the evidence we do have Mithra slayed a bull, not for the world but simply because it was a heroic deed.  The bull’s blood was shed, but there is nothing in any ancient source that said Mithra shed any of his own, or was even injured in the event.

 

Buried in a Tomb and Resurrected on the Third Day

Once again the record of this being part of the Christian belief system and accounting of events is without dispute.

What about Mithra?  There are no evidences in Mithraic literature of Mithra ever being buried, let alone dying.  And of course if there was no dying there was no resurrection to record either.

Nothing copied here.

Named the Good Shepherd, and Lamb and Lion

Definitely part of the Christian repertoire, what about Mithra?

No evidence exists that Mithra was ever identified with the term “good shepherd” or a lamb.  The lion was Mithra’s totem animal.  Jesus Christ however is identified as all three of these things, and has an earlier claim on the symbolism of the lion by being a member of the tribe of Judah.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

The claim has been made that Mithra was also called the “Word”, the “Redeemer”, the “Savior”, and “Messiah”.  One current populist author also now includes the titles of creator, god of gods, lord, and others.  Unfortunately when one looks at actual Mithraic literature these titles are nowhere to be found.  There is no evidence Mithra was ever referred to as any of these monikers.

On the other hand, evidence is manifest that Jesus was called these things and very early on.  So it would appear that there is wishful thinking going on, and it’s getting in the way of the truth when it comes to the subject of Christ-copycat-ism.

Holy Communion

Most of us know the telling of the Last Supper, and many claim that Mithra also had a feast wherein he announced a communion to be had with him by eating his body and drinking his blood.  That they would not be saved without doing so.  Unfortunately this appears to be more wishful thinking on the part of some as this was not said by Mithra, but is a quote by Zarathustra in literature from the 4th century.

Once again if there are charges of copying to be laid it would seem that the account of the life of Jesus Christ is one of the most plagiarized in history.

Conclusion

I really do not see how any conclusion can be made other than that Christ was definitely not borrowed from the cult of Mithra.  True Mithraic scholars know nothing about any claims of borrowing, indeed those who claim such tend to have certain things in common: a populist writer, a severe shortage of documentation and footnotes, in their personal lives tend to be practicing pagans and Wiccans.  Interesting don’t you think?

There are many other items in the list of “borrowed” theology, but I think we’ve shown that their basis, as in the ones here, are utter nonsense.    You, as anyone, is free to believe whatever you wish.  But wouldn’t you rather base it on your own research rather then the ramblings of the disgruntled or those with an agenda who would lie to you?  Because sooner or later someone will show you that what you believed is a lie.  Or worse, you present it to someone as evidence, who knows it’s a lie, and now thinks you are both uneducated and ignorant.

The account of Jesus the Christ is not a re-telling of the tale of Mithra(s) in any way shape or form.

Sources

Bivar, A. D. The Personalities of Mithra in Archaeology and Literature

Freke, Timothy and Peter Gandy. The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?

Laeuchli, Samuel. Mithraism in Ostia

Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World

Wynne-Tyson, Esme. Mithras: The Fellow in the Cap