Good question......was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth?
(Part A1) MAJOR Revision May/2001 // Part B (6/13/97)
Continued from copycatwho1.html...
But let's also take a brief look at the major figures that are prominent in the better known MR's of the Roman Empire. The ones most often referenced in NT background reference sourcebooks such as KOC, DSG, and NTB are the Greek MRs (Eleusinian--based on the rape of Persephone by Pluto; Dionysos (Bacchus)) and the Oriental MRs (Isis, Cybele/Attis--examined above, Mithras) [For a discussion of this breakdown, see NTSE:132-137.] We will only look at the ones of these with "unique" deities that might fall into a semi-DARG category.
The MR of Isis/Osiris/Serapis.
This MR was NOT the same as the earlier Osiris religion we looked at. This was a substantial modification of that religion by Ptolemy I in the Hellenistic period. So :
"Under Ptolemy I, the hellenistic ruler of Egypt from 305 to 285 B.C., a new cult was established in honor of Serapis, a composite deity whose attributes included features of Osiris (the God of the Nile), Aesclepius (the god of healing), Jupiter (the supreme Olympian god, Zeus, adapted for Roman use), and Pluto (the god of the underworld). In their efforts to create a one-world culture, the hellenistic rulers found a cult as inclusive as that of Serapis enormously useful, because people of diverse backgrounds could unite in honoring this divinity." [Kee in KOC:77]
"We touch here upon a most important element in the comparisons which can be made between Egyptian and Asiatic cults--the influence of the Greeks. They, too, knew "the old Mediterranean ritual of sorrow with its periodic wailing for a departed divinity, hero or heroine," expressing "the emotion of natural man excited by the disappearance of verdure, by the gathering of the harvest, or by the fall of the year." The Greeks have not only identified Egyptian gods with their own but have used the Egyptian material creatively for their own ends. The spread of the cult of lsis throughout the Roman Empire is the outstanding example of an adaptation in which the original features disappeared almost completely. Most, if not all, of the information on Egyptian religion which classical authors offer is disfigured from the Egyptian point ofview. Even the oldest Greek source exemplifies the peculiarly Greek tendency to transmute every borrowed trait into an expression of Hellenic thought; Herodotus (ii. 59) equated Isis with Demeter. [Frankfort, opcit, p.291f]
The cult of Osiris (Egyptian) was transformed into an MR of Serapis by Ptolemy. The MR version made inroads into Rome--from Egypt--during the reign of Caligula (A.D. 37-41), and although Osiris was certainly a dying (but NOT 'rising') god, we know that Serapis was NOT a dying god at all. He was a deliberate mixture of deities without a DARG motif (e.g., Osiris, Zeus) and he was acclaimed for his healing abilites (because of his assimilation of Aesculapius). But again, the closest any of the component deities come to DARGs is in Osiris, which we have already seen to be dying-but-not-rising. [The Apis bull motif doesn't help much either, since when the bull dies, it becomes Osiris in the underworld--and thus doesn't escape the underworld at all. And of course, they then had to go an find a replacement bull (the bulls were actually mummified, signifying their continued existence in the realm of the dead--NOT in the realm of the living.)]
The MR of Dionysos (Bacchus).
Dionysos was the god of wine, and most of the cult was concerned with partying, to such an extent that the Roman Senate restricted its size and meeting frequency in 186 BC (NTSE:133). There were the vague intimations of renewal in the seasonal changes of the earth, but the similarities with Jesus are few and insubstantial. It is one of the older cults, going back into the 7th century B.C. but it was only turned into an MR during the Roman period.
This figure had many, many various and contradictory accounts of his exploits, but the two that are most closely related to the DARG scenario are the accounts of his birth:
Here is the first (and best-known) account:
"Philandering Zeus fell in love with Semele, princess of the house of Thebes and daughter of the Phoenician immigrant king Gadmus . Zeus came to her disguised as a mortal man, and Semele was soon pregnant. Hera, Zeus's queen, inflamed with jealousy, disguised herself as an old woman and hurried to Semele's door; her hair was straggly and her skin furrowed with wrinkles. For a while the two women chatted. When Semele revealed her affair with Zeus, the disguised Hera suggested that his claim to be king of the gods might be only a ploy; perhaps he was an ordinary mortal who made up the story to bring Semele to his bed. The old woman departed, and Semele doubted. When Zeus next came, she asked for just one wish. Zeus swore by the underworld river Styx that he would give whatever she asked. "Appear to me as you appear to Hera, when you make love to her!" Semele asked. Sorrowful, yet true to his word, Zeus appeared in all his glory, burning Semele to a crisp. Hermes saved the fetus and carried it to Zeus, who sewed it into his thigh. Three months later he removed the stitches, and Dionysus was born again. He was the twice-born god." [HI:CM3:250; note: I only count one birth here, at most]
And then another account, with logically precedes the other:
"Another myth told about his birth even more clearly established him in this role as a god of the mysteries. Zeus mated with his daughter Persephone, who bore a son, Zagreus, which is another name for Dionysus. In her jealousy, Hera then aroused the Titans to attack the child. These monstrous beings, their faces whitened with chalk, attacked the infant as he was looking in a mirror (in another version, they beguiled him with toys and cut him to pieces with knives). After the murder, the Titans devoured the dismembered corpse. But the heart of the infant god was saved and brought to Zeus by Athena; Dionysus was born again--swallowed by Zeus and begotten on Semele. Zeus was was angry with the Titans and destroyed them with his thunder and lightning; but from their ashes humankind was born." [HI:CMY6:223; this looks like a real birth and death, but not a 'resurrection'--going 'back out' as Zeus' seed into Semele is a stretch for the phase 'born again'...]
The Zagreus myth shows up in 'regular' Dionysusian and in 'Orphic' Dionysosian cults, in which one possible ritual act--the tearing apart a live animal and eating its raw flesh--is interpreted differently:
"Little is known of the actual mysteries of Dionysos, but presumably they were as diverse as the manifestations of the god. It seems likely that the Dionysian mysteries usually included eating and drinking. At least in the archaic and savage mysteries of Dionysos, as portrayed in Euripides' play The Bacchae, the initiates were said to tear animals to pieces (sparagmos) and eat the flesh raw (omophagia) as a way of assimilating the Dionysian power embodied within the animal. In more serene Bacchic rites, such as those of the lobacchoi in Athens, the meal was a banquet." [TAM:63]
But the more savage of the rituals were eliminated early in the cult history, but some traces of these show up in pre-Roman times [HI:CM3:276]:
"The presence of a crowd of witnesses fostered the experience of Dionysian ecstasy, as suggested in myth by the band of followers who always surround the god, the maenads and satyrs. Continuous dancing to the beating of drums and the playing of flutes, and the consumption of wine, led devotees to direct experience of the god. So did the communal tearing apart of an animal (sparagmos) and the eating of its raw flesh (omophagia). In prehistoric times this practice may have taken a cannibalistic form, with human beings as victims. In the myths, Pentheus is torn limb from limb (although not actually eaten) by the god's crazed followers, Ino boils her son in a pot, and the Minyads eat their own children. The myths no doubt exaggerate the more sensational forms of the cult; cannibalism and human sacrifice were abhorrent by the Archaic and Classical periods. Still, we have inscriptional evidence that Dionysus' followers really did practice the "eating of raw flesh" as late as the Hellenistic Period.
"Greek and Roman religions in general lacked creeds and claimed little moral authority, but they did develop local priesthoods, which eventually became integral parts of the institutions of the state. In this way the savage features of Dionysiac religion disappeared from the festivals of the Classical Period. Nevertheless, on several occasions the worship of Dionysus was felt to be a political threat. In Rome his cult grew to such proportions during the long and painful war with Carthage that in 186 B.C. an alarmed senate, after many executions, brought it under severe restrictions.
[The Orphics are sometimes classified as a mystery religion, under the category of Dionysus, but it is less certain that it constituted a group back then:
"The name of Orphism is sometimes used to describe the beliefs and practices of those who took part in mystery cults based on the poems attributed to Orpheus, or who engaged in ascetic practices. However, it is uncertain to what extent Orphism can be thought of as a unified spiritual movement." [HI:COCCL, s.v. "Orpheus"]
They did, however, have an opposite interpretation of the flesh-eating of Dionysus (arguing that it was not consistently understood as 'union with the god'!):
"About the Orphic mysteries of Dionysos we know somewhat more. Named after their founder Orpheus, whose myths depict him as a Thracian singer who tried to liberate his departed Eurydice from death and who was torn to pieces by Bacchantes (women maddened by Dionysos), the Orphics laid special claim to the god Dionysos, but did so in a peculiar manner. For the Orphics the Dionysian practice of omophagia became the original transgression, and they recounted the myth of Dionysos Zagreus in order to show the enormity of the sin of omophagia. According to the myth of Zagreus, it was the evil Titans who consumed Dionysos. Yet after Zeus incinerated the Titans for their wicked deed, human beings were created from the ashes. Thus, human beings are bipartite, according to the Orphics: they are composed of a Titanic nature (the fleshly body) and a Dionysian nature (the immortal soul). Although the Dionysian soul is imprisoned in a Titanic body (the soma, or body, is termed a sema, or tomb, by the Orphics), the soul may be delivered from its shackles by means of a life devoted to purity and realize its true Dionysian destiny. [TAM:64f]
But in any event, Dionysos career doesn't reveal "numerous, complex, and detailed" parallels with that of Jesus.
Pushback: "Hey, man, are you gonna completely skip over Jesus' imitation of Dionysus at the Wedding in Cana?! Just like you Christians to destroy almost all the evidence, and ignore the evidence we DO have...amazing!"
Actually, you are too late...the world has once again 'moved on'...so WBC places this event against its Jewish background, as opposed to some pagan one (note the comments about no real parallels):
"Some scholars view the glory of Jesus here set over against that claimed for Dionysus, the provider of wine, and the fullness of life experienced in intoxication. Various stories were told of this provision, such as the placing of three empty basins at night in the temple at Elis and finding them to be full of wine the next day; or of the spring of wine that flowed in the temple of Bacchus in Andros on the festal day known as Theodosia (see Dodd, Historical Tradition, 224–25). An exhaustive examination of the evidence relating to such parallels was made by H. Noetzel (Christus und Dionysus); he has convinced most scholars that the parallels are insufficient to support the claims made for them. In particular the motif of changing water to wine is not present in the Dionysus legends; the jugs of Elis, for example, were not filled with water but were empty, and the fount of wine in Andros did not replace one of water. To suggest that the Evangelist or his source wished to demonstrate through the Cana miracle that a greater than Dionysus has appeared is a speculation without warrant. [WBC]
"Most writers acknowledge that in the Johannine narrative there is an implicit contrast between water used for Jewish purificatory rites and the wine given by Jesus; the former is characteristic of the old order, the latter of the new. There can be little doubt that the change of which the miracle is a sign is the coming of the kingdom of God in and through Jesus. The picture of the kingdom of God as a feast is prominent in Judaism and in the synoptic teaching (see, e.g., Matt 5:6; 8:11–12; Mark 2:19; Luke 22:15–18, 29–30a), and abundance of wine is a feature of the feast (e.g. Isa 25:6). The glory of Jesus, manifest in Cana was a sign of his mediating the grace of the kingdom of God in his total ministry. The glory of God is seen precisely in God’s bestowal of life in his kingdom, and this he gives through the Son. [WBC]
"Older attempts to interpret this sign as a Christianized version of the Dionysus myth (Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, the one who supplied the abundance of life and joy associated with inebriation) or of related stories have largely been abandoned in the light of evidence that the alleged parallels are wholly inadequate. " [D. A. Carson, John, Eerdmans:1991]
"Indeed, in the ancient literature Plutarch says that there was a spring at Haliartus with clear, sparkling, wine-colored, very pleasant-tasting water in which the newly born Dionysus was bathed . Also, Pliny says that at Andros, on the festival known as Theodosia, a spring in the temple of Bacchus flowed with wine. Pausanias says that at Elis the priests of Dionysus placed three large empty cauldrons in a sealed room to find them filled with wine when they returned the next day. And Ovid says that Liber, the Italian god identified with Bacchus, gave the daughters of the Delian king Anius the power to turn things into wine, a story associated with Dionysus...However, from these references it is obvious that there are significant differences between the Dionysus legend and the story in John 2: the spring at Haliartus flowed with water, and the one at Andros flowed with wine, not water that had once been wine; and the empty cauldrons in the Elis temple were filled with wine rather than water subsequently changed into wine, key elements in John's story. These differences have convinced most scholars that John or his tradition is not dependent on the Dionysus legend for this story." [NT:JMW:192]
The MR of Mithras.
This is a strange one, and one that is under considerable re-assessment in the scholarly community. Earlier scholars in the field followed the 1903 standard by Cumont in which the Mithra of the Roman MR's was connected with the Iranian and Persian deities of the name Mithra/Mitra. This position has been under radical and critical fire for some 25 years, since the only connection between the Middle Eastern cult and the Roman MR was the name. And the bull-ceremony, in which Mithra kills a bull, does not occur in the Iranian/Persian versions. Recent leaders in the fields, such as David Ulansey have argued for a strictly Roman origin for this MR, based exclusively on the zodiacial orientation of the period (cf. [HI:OMMU] )
If we accept Ulansey's view [as well as others who interpret the 'slaying of the bull' as astrological], then there is essentially no DARG content in the Roman "Mithra" MR; most of it would have been in the Persian/Iranian versions (if at all, see below). And its ties to the East are almost nil: "Mithraism's ties with the east amount to so little that they can be denied entirely" (MacMullen, [HI:PTRE:119]). Accordingly, there is nothing to be 'similar to' and the identification fails. We have noted earlier that there is no 'suffering god' in the Roman version of this cult, and it is the Roman version that would have been in ascendency at the time of NT formation.
So, the "Roman" Mithras MR--without a 'suffering god' at all--has no bearing on our subject here, since we are essentially trying to find 'striking' parallels between the figures of Jesus and other deity/hero figures.We obviously don't know much about the 'Roman' version, but we have already seen that specialists in the field do not consider Mithras a 'suffering god' and correspondingly, not a 'dying and rising god' either. And even many/most of the alleged ritual parallels are now suspect:
1. The sacrament meal or "communion":
"Francis comments: "Cumont's systematic description of Mithraic liturgy in Christian terms is now seen to be misleading, not to say mischievous. In particular, his description of the Mithraic meal as 'communion' has been called in question." After a detailed examination of the subject, Kane concluded: But once again I remind the reader that in all this we have not yet found a cult meal, a meal in which all the initiates can participate.... On the other hand I have found no support for a "haoma ceremony," the existence of which is the basic assumption of Cumont's theory of a sacramental Mithraic meal. Nor can I find any support for Vermaseren's assumption that Mithraic initiates ate the flesh of a bull and drank its blood so as to be born again, whether from Mithraic iconography and archaeology, Avestan texts, or the Greek and Graeco-Roman milieu.'" [cited at OT:PAB:517]
2. The "saved us by eternal blood" inscription: "Beck therefore concludes that this text, 'which has perhaps been the principal warrant for the interpretation of Mithras' bull-killing as a salvific act effective because it transcends time, can no longer carry the weight placed upon it''" [cited at OT:PAB:512]
3. Identification of the slain bull with Mithras himself: "The blood is without doubt the blood of the slain bull. Following a suggestion of Alfred Loisy--who was influenced by Christian soterology--Vermaseren entertained the suggestion that the bull was an incarnation of Mithras himself, although he correctly notes there is no evidence for this identification." [cited at OT:PAB:512]
So, if the Roman one doesn't fit the bill, does the Iranian/Indian version offer us a DARG?
The Iranian version has a background in Vedic India as well (as 'Mitra')...
1. The vedic version of Mitra is not very emphasised (as compared to his dualistic-twin, Varuna). He is a personification of "contract" , thence 'friend'. He "appears as basically benevolent, the god who regulates the tiller folk" [WR:CM:48]
2. He has some solar characteristics, but would not be considered a solar deity at the Vedic stage: "Apart from the obvious circle of Dyaus-descended divine characters discussed above, a vague tinge of "solarity" attaches to a number of deities (including Mitra)." [WR:CM:62]
3. In Iran, immediately before Zarathustra, Mithra becomes a little more associated with the sun: "Much as in India the rather faded Mitra took on some solar characteristics and later came to be an appellative 'friend', in Modern Persian mihr, mehr still means both 'sun' and 'friendship'. Mithra is one of the most important Old Iranian divinities" [WR:CM:99]
4. When he emerges in Iran--during Zarathustra's 'revolt'--he is suppressed at first, then given expanded 'responsibilities':
"Zarathustra's exaltatation of Ahura and onomastic suppression of Mithra were symptomatic of his henotheistic fervor that did not survive the reformer. It looks as if Mithra was fleetingly demonized by the prophet's reductionist and abstractionist zeal but reemerged once the religious revolution had run its course. Outside the onomastic formulas, the conjunction/contrast Mithra and Ahura had of course collapsed, for Ahura was now a kind of pantheonic board chairman increasingly frozen in his polarized stance vis-a-vis Angra Mainyu, while it was left to Mithra to do the mythical dirty work. His roles have in fact expanded: on top of guarding human settlements and social compacts, he employs spies like Varuna and punishes perjurers and contract breakers, champions warriors, wields the thunderbolt and makes the rain fall (largely by default of the demonized Indara), and generally evolves toward a solar-tinged warrior-god not without connotations of cattle and fertility" [WR:CM:100]
5. His relationship to nature was as a 'weather god' and to cattle as 'lord of the wide places' (a frequent epithet of his):
"This particular god, the contract-god, was considered to be both a protector and a judge over all living things, especially humans. Since he controlled the cosmic order he could punish those who turned against the truth and rightness.... In the Rigveda, Mithra was a continuous companion of Varuna. Based on these connections and Mithra's name which can be translated as 'covenant, contract, treaty' and 'friendship', one can see the focus on the honorable, ethical and just aspects of his divine persona which can reflect the importance of covenant and stability of contracts and structural divisions among the nomadic societies of Eurasia. As such an important concept, Mithra may have been 'transplanted' to the Middle East with the arrival of Indo-European nomadic tribes or groups such as the Hittites and the Persians. This argument about Mithra's 'arrival' might be strengthened by his warrior qualities (a mighty warrior on a chariot killing covenant violators with a mace) and his ability to replenish earthly waters by releasing both rivers and rain. The combination of all the above features may have earned him the title of the Anatolian weather-god whose qualities he obviously represented and it might be for this reason that his memory was carried on by the Hittite pantheon in addition to the Rigveda and the Avesta." [OT:CSME:110]
6. The original Indian Mitra was a sky-god (and therefore, somewhat connected to the sun):
"Mithra is the same as Mitra, the Vedic sky-god, and we have already seen him in the Mihir Yasht where, closely connected but not yet identical with the sun...Later Mithra was identified with the Semitic sun-god, Shamash..." [MM:103]
"In Yasht 10 (Mihir Yasht) there is a series of hymns of praise addressed to Mithra as the god of heavenly light, whose victorious power is manifest in the sun...The hymn names Mithra and begins: 'Who first of the heavenly gods reaches over the Hara, before the undying, swift-horsed sun...'" (emphasis mine; note that the sun is called 'undying', as opposed to 'dying and rising'...) [MM:74]
7. He is not known as a 'dying' god, but as a beneficient--but harsh--victorious warrior and protector diety:
"[In the Avesta] he is depicted as an omniscient warrior god, who blessed his followers but who also inflicted horrible calamities on his foes. The Avestan Mithra was associated with the sun, but was not identified with it. He was especially known as 'the lord of wide pastures,' a phrase that occurs 111 times." [OT:PAB:494]
8. In fact, his relationship with the sun is related to knowledge, instead of identity with it (note: 'solar deities' are not generally considered 'dying and rising gods' either, cf. Apollo or Sol Invictus of Rome):
"He facilitates agreements between men and makes them honor their engagements. The sun is his eye (Taitt. Brah. 18.104.22.168); all-seeing, nothing escapes him." [WR:HRI1:204]
9. He is specifically NOT a 'vegetation god' in the sense normally used:
"Such promises explain the adjective that is frequently coupled with his name: vourugauyaoiti, 'possessing vast pastures.' Not that Mithra is an agrarian deity to whom one should pray so that crops may grow, but rather that he is a fighting god who brings the victory that makes it possible for the aryas to get control of new territories." [WR:MYB:2:892]
In other words, we don't have any reason to suspect that the pre-Roman Mithra/Mitra had any DARG characteristics, either.
[BTW, scholars don't know how the Iranian Mithra got 'transmutated into' the Roman Mithra, but some believe the change was somehow connected with Tarsus, a major center for the cult of Perseus, and of course, Asia Minor was the hotbed/home of many of the cults favored by the later Roman emperors (cf. Ulansey, chapter 4 in [HI:OMMU], "The Perseus Cult of Tarsus")]
So, with the Mystery Religions, we once again come up without "numerous, complex, detailed" parallels with parallel "underlying ideas and structure"...
Pushback: "WHOA, WHOA, WHOA--wait a minute, glenn! Did you just say "TARSUS" was a major center for Mithras, and for other mystery cults?! As in the "Tarsus, where Paul was born?!"...You mean the Apostle Paul grew up in a place teeming with the kinda stuff we have been talking about here? And you weren't gonna say anything about it, were you, O Deceitful Apologist?! Amazing!...but if Paul did grow up there, then that explains EVERYTHING--I can see now why his epistles are TEEMING with MR images: of Jesus being born from a rock, of Jesus slaying a bull, of Jesus partnering with the Sun God, of the Great Mother's lions and the required castration of all church leaders, of Dionysus' giant phallus festivals, of all the zodiacal celebrations in caves, of the seven grades of initiation, of Jesus being killed by a boar and turning into a flower--Wow, it all makes so much sense, now! ...And to think, I almost believed all this junk you had written so far..."
Wow, what can I say to that?--other than "you caught me"...mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maximus culpa...?
Well, all the data we have indicates:
1. That Paul was born there, but didn't grow up there:
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem]. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. [Acts 22.3]
2. His letters suggest that he was NOT raised there at all (or at least that he didn't get his Greek education there):
"Here, however, for once people have been ready to believe Luke, because if Paul came from Tarsus it was possible to connect him broadly with Hellenistic education and culture and with the syncretistic practices of Syria and Asia Minor from his earliest youth. For it was the verdict of Strabo that in the capital of Cilicia 'there was so much zeal for philosophy and all the other aspects of education generally among the inhabitants that in this respect they surpassed even Alexandria, Athens, and any other place'. However, it is an open question whether and how far the young Paul in Tarsus acquired any of this 'general education' that flourished there, in contrast to his older contemporary Philo of Alexandria, whose nature was so different. Certainly in Paul's letters we meet a few maxims and commonplaces from the popular philosophers, but these go with the style of missionary and apologetic preaching in the synagogues; by contrast, we find virtually none of the knowledge of the classical Greek literature which formed part of the general canon of education in his letters. It is completely uncertain whether he had ever seen a Greek tragedy or a mime. The most popular drama of the Hellenistic period was Euripides' Bacchae - an abomination to strict Jews, certainly, and the same went for the lascivious mime. The pious Pharisaic Jew rejected the pagan theatre hardly any less bitterly than the orator and Christian Tertullian in his De Spectaculis." At best one might perhaps assume that Paul had occasionally heard one of the recitations of poetry which were popular at the time. However, there are no references to this in his letters. His language shows no trace of any knowledge of Greek poetry, i.e. of epics, drama and poetry. The only lyric which he quotes, in I Corinthians 15.33, comes from Menander's Thais and - like many other verses of the comic poet - had long since become a detached saying. The language of Homer and the Greek tragedians is as alien to Paul as the imitation of the Attic orators or the purity of classical language. Nor does the pseudo-classical verse of the Jews play any part in his argumentation. It only became significant again a century later, for the Christian apologists, through whom early Christianity deliberately made its way into the world of Greek education .
"Strabo concludes his hymn of praise to Tarsus by saying that the city also had 'all kinds of schools of the rhetorical arts', and intrinsically it would be conceivable that the young Saul also mastered literary Greek at a very early stage, so thoroughly, that for him, 'the true master of the speech, to whom ideas came in an overwhelming flood', it became 'an appropriate instrument'." The only question is how long he lived in Tarsus.
"I doubt whether Paul was trained in one of the usual schools of rhetoric, since a clear distinction must be made between the Greek elementary school and instruction in rhetoric. Even the question where he received his Greek elementary education must remain open. Both Jerusalem and Tarsus are possibilities, since in Paul it is impossible to separate Greek education from Jewish. Even in Greek garb he remains a Jew through and through.
"Although to outward appearance Paul is a 'wanderer between two worlds' ' his theological thinking displays a quite astonishing unity. That will already have been the case with the Jew Saul, and the two periods of his life, the Jewish and the Christian, are closely interlocked. This makes it clear that faith in the Messiah Jesus was not something alien to the Jew, something which came from outside.
"Today hardly anyone argues that the later Paul, as HJ.Schoeps and L.Goppelt conjecture, was at least indirectly influenced in his christology by impressions from his youth, going back to the public cult of the vegetation god Sandon-Heracles worshipped in Tarsus, or to titles used in the Hellenistic-Roman ruler cult; this is extremely improbable. Traces of a Cilician 'syncretism', or even a syncretism from Asia Minor and Syria, are simply not to be found in the Pauline letters that have come down to us." [NT:PCP:2-4]
3. We have already seen that he didn't act very syncretistic when he was preaching/teaching in Asia Minor--and he was constantly around these various cults (and countless more). We saw above the numerous opportunities he had for syncretism (to win an audience and 'further his cause'), but it seems in every situation he "stubbornly continued" with his exclusivistic proclamation of Jesus, and his abject denounciation of his hearers' gods as 'not-gods' or even 'demons'...So, even if he had been 'raised in this pagan stuff', he must have been a very poor student...
4. We have already seen that recent scholarship has seen Judaism as the background for the various images in Pauline literature (and the gospel literature, for that matter), instead of these cults anyway. So, even if he had been 'raised in this pagan stuff', he apparently liked his other education in Jerusalem better...
But I do appreciate you trying to keep me honest...(smile)
Third, there are the more "major players" (e.g. Buddha, Krishna)
To what extent are the lives of Jesus, Buddha, Krisha "almost identical" enough to justify suspicion of borrowing?
Let's do Buddha first...
Let's use the list from the original (submitted) website. These are the only suggested parallels in that document:
Buddha was born of the virgin Maya.
He performed miracles and wonders.
He crushed a serpent's head.
He abolished idolatry.
He ascended to Nirvana or "heaven."
He was considered the "Good Shepherd."
Now, there are two main questions hiding in here: (1) did the Buddha legend include these legends in the way portrayed--"elements in common with Jesus Christ"; and (2) are these sufficient to conclude "almost identical" or even "material similarity"?
The second is relatively easy to answer, given the above discussions. These elements--even IF accurate--would not even be close enough to implicate borrowing. Let's go back through them.
Buddha was born of the virgin Maya. [We have already seen the radical differences here, and the data that his mom was married before his conception counts against the factuality of this. There ARE later traditions, however, that assert that she had taken vows of abstinence even during her marriage, but it can be understood (so in EOR) to refer only to the time of that midsummer festival. The first and finest biography of the Buddha, written by Ashvaghosha in the 1st century, called the Buddhacarita ("acts of the buddha") gives a rather strong indication of her non-virgin status in canto 1:
"He [the king of the Shakyas] had a wife, splendid, beautiful, and steadfast, who was called the Great Maya, from her resemblance to Maya the Goddess. These two tasted of love's delights, and one day she conceived the fruit of her womb, but without any defilement, in the same way in which knowledge joined to trance bears fruit. Just before her conception she had a dream." (WR:BS:35).]
"The oldest accounts of Buddha's ancestry appear to presuppose nothing abnormal about his birth, and merely speak of his being well born both on his mother's end and father's side for seven generations back. According to the later legend he is born not as other human beings, but in the same was as a universal king he descends from the Tusita heaven by his own choice, and with this his father is not concerned. This is not properly a virgin birth, but it may be called parthogenetic, that is, Suddhodana was not his progenitor." WR:LBLH:36]
He performed miracles and wonders. [We have already seen how this is expected, not surprising.]
He crushed a serpent's head. [Strangely enough, even though this is commonly associated with the Messianic figure in the OT from Genesis 3, there is no point of contact with the NT portrayal of Jesus. The history-of-religions field, however, argues that this pervasive theme could be related to some primeval religious revelation/insight.]
He abolished idolatry. [Not only is this HIGHLY questionable, given the various deities/tantric deities/manifestations in many of the forms of Buddism(!), but it can also be pointed out that Jesus never did this. Idolatry as a heresy was legally abolished in the Law of Moses, but was practically eradicated in the Exile. Some of buddhism is atheistic; some of it has thousands of spirits/deities. Indeed, the 1st-century buddhist biographer cited above from WR:BS, in canto 21 ("Parinirvana"), in describing the events that happened at the death of the Buddha, says this: "But, well established in the practice of the supreme Dharma, the gathering of the gods round king Vaishravana was not grieved and shed no tears, so great was their attachment to the Dharma. The Gods of the Pure Abode, though they had great reverence for the Great Seer, remained composed, and their minds were unaffected; for they hold the things of this world in the utmost contempt."]
He ascended to Nirvana or "heaven." [This is a misunderstanding of the Buddhist teaching on Nirvana. It is not a 'place' nor is 'ascension' (especially BODILY, VISIBLE, and HISTORICAL ascension as in the life of Christ) a relevant concept. This is another example of imprecise and misleading language. The Buddha is said to have traversed (on his death-couch) all nine of the trance levels--twice, and then his body was cremated (WR:BS:64-65; WR:BIG:42)].
He was considered the "Good Shepherd." [Again, this is expected and common, especially in pastoral-based cultures; not a cause to suspect borrowing]
These 'similarities' turn out to be either superficial, misunderstood, or simply irrelevant. As in most of the cases we will look at in this paper, it is the differences that are the most striking.
Just to cite a few:
Buddha did not in any sense suffer a voluntary, sacrificial, and substitutionary death--he most likely died of indigestion at 80 years of age [WR:Eliade:27].
Buddha said "there is no savior"; Jesus said "I have come to seek and to save the lost" and "I came not to judge the world but to save it".
Buddha did not experience a bodily resurrection from physical death; Jesus did.
The single alleged prophecy of Buddha's coming applied only to a FUTURE Buddha (Maitreya), NOT the historical one (WR:BS:237ff); the prophetic stream from which Jesus stepped is rich, varied, prior to Him, and established BEFORE His arrival.
Now, to be complete (and fair), I should mention that when the History-of-Religions school was in full bloom, there were scholarly works that identified possible parallels between Buddha and Jesus, and these were to be evaluated and investigated for possible borrowing by the historian. In WR:LBLH, Edwards lists/discusses several that were discussed in the literature in the first half of the twentieth century:
Simeon in the temple
The visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2)
Praise by Kisa Gotami (Luke 11.27)
The widow's mite
Peter walking on the sea
The samaritan woman
The end of the world
Choosing the disciples
The Prodigal Son
The man that was born blind
Miracle of loaves and fishes
Edwards then notes that the number of 'alleged parallels' advanced is "inversely proportional" to how much a scholar knows about the Buddhist literature(!):
"If scholars could come to an agreement on what instances are 'cogent parallels' or cases of actual borrowing, we should then have the data of a problem for the historians to decide. But so far this hope is illusory. Seydel's fifty instances are reduced by van den Bergh to nine. In proportion to the investigator's direct knowledge of the Buddhist sources the number seems to decrease. E. W. Hopkins discusses five ' cogent parallels ', but does not consider any of them very probable. Garbe assumes direct borrowing in four cases, Simeon, the Temptation, Peter walking on the sea, and the Miracle of the loaves and fishes. Charpentier considers Simeon the only unobjectionable example. Other scholars reject all connexion." [WR:LBLH:247f]
And concludes that the comparision fails, due to lack of "strong parallels" in the important (central) areas:
"In any case the chief events of the life--birth, renunciation, enlightenment, and death, the very items which might give strength to the comparison--disappear from the question" [op cit]
Again, the list from the (submitted) website:
Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th.
He had 12 disciples.
He was buried in a tomb and resurrected.
He was also the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Messiah, God's Anointed Son, the Good Shepherd, etc.
He performed miracles and rose one man, El-Azar-us, from the dead.
Horus' personal epithet was "Iusa," the "ever becoming son" of "Ptah," the "Father."
Horus was called "the KRST," or "Anointed One," long before the Christians duplicated the story
Let's look at these:
Indeed, the description of the conception of Horus will show exactly the sexual elements that characterize pagan 'miracle births', as noted by the scholars earlier:
But again, my research in the academic literature does not surface this fact. I can find references to FOUR "disciples"--variously called the semi-divine HERU-SHEMSU ("Followers of Horus") [GOE:1.491]. I can find references to SIXTEEN human followers (GOE:1.196). And I can find reference to an UNNUMBERED group of followers called mesniu/mesnitu ("blacksmiths") who accompanied Horus in some of his battles [GOE:1.475f; although these might be identified with the HERU-SHEMSU in GOE:1.84]. But I cannot find TWELVE anywhere... Horus is NOT the sun-god (that's Re), so we cannot use the 'all solar gods have twelve disciples--in the Zodiac' routine here.]
This fact has likewise escaped me and my research. I have looked at probably 50 epithets of the various Horus deities, and most major indices of the standard Egyptology reference works and come up virtually empty-handed. I can find a city named "Iusaas" [GOE:1.85], a pre-Islamic Arab deity by the name of "Iusaas", thought by some to be the same as the Egyptian god Tehuti/Thoth [GOE:2.289], and a female counterpart to Tem, named "Iusaaset" [GOE:1.354]. But no reference to Horus as being "Iusa"... ]
Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th. [We have already seen that Horus was NOT born of a virgin at all. Indeed, one ancient Egyptian relief depicts this conception by showing his mother Isis in a falcon form, hovering over an erect phallus of a dead and prone Osiris in the Underworld (EOR, s.v. "Phallus"). And the Dec 25 issue is of no relevance to us--nowhere does the NT associate this date with Jesus' birth at all.
"But after she [i.e., Isis] had brought it [i.e. Osiris' body] back to Egypt, Seth managed to get hold of Osiris's body again and cut it up into fourteen parts, which she scattered all over Egypt. Then Isis went out to search for Osiris a second time and buried each part where she found it (hence the many tombs of Osiris tht exist in Egypt). The only part that she did not find was the god's penis, for Seth had thrown it into the river, where it had been eaten by a fish; Isis therefore fashioned a substitute penis to put in its place. She had also had sexual intercourse with Osisis after his death, which resulted in the conception and birth of his posthumous son, Harpocrates, Horus-the-child. Osiris became king of the netherworld, and Horus proceeded to fight with Seth..." [CANE:2:1702; emphasis mine] [BTW, the Hebrew word 'satan' is not a 'cognate' of the name 'seth' by any means: "The root *STN is not evidenced in any of the cognate languages in texts that are prior to or contemporary with its occurrences in the Hebrew Bible" DDD, s.v. 1369f]
He had 12 disciples. [This would be so incidental as to be of no consequence--even if I could verify this fact!
He was buried in a tomb and resurrected. [We have already seen that the DARG pattern simply cannot be demonstrated in ANY case. And the data is against this "fact" even being true. I can find no references to Horus EVER dying, until he later becomes "merged" with Re the Sun god, after which he 'dies' and is 'reborn' every single day as the sun rises. And even in this 'death', there is no reference to a tomb anywhere...The massive difference between this metaphor of life/death, and the claims of the apostolic band about the real death and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth should illustrate why the 'numerous, complex, and detailed' and 'non-superficial' criteria have to be insisted on by scholars in this field... ]
He was also the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Messiah, God's Anointed Son, the Good Shepherd, etc. [We saw above that the commonality of religious terms means almost nothing.]
He performed miracles and rose one man, El-Azar-us, from the dead. [Miracle stories abound, even among religious groups that could not possibly have influenced one another, such as Latin American groups (e.g. Aztecs) and Roman MR's, so this 'similarity' carries no force. The reference to this specific resurrection I cannot find ANYWHERE in the scholarly literature. I have looked under all forms of the name to no avail. The fact that something so striking is not even mentioned in modern works of Egyptology indicates its questionable status. It simply cannot be adduced as data without SOME real substantiation. The closest thing to it I can find is in Horus' official funerary role, in which he "introduces" the newly dead to Osirus and his underworld kingdom. In the Book of the Dead, for example, Horus introduces the newly departed Ani to Osirus, and asks Osirus to accept and care for Ani (GOE:1.490). ]
Horus' personal epithet was "Iusa," the "ever becoming son" of "Ptah," the "Father." [Again, a case of religious epithets without any force for this argument.
Horus was called "the KRST," or "Anointed One," long before the Christians duplicated the story [This is still yet another religious name or symbol, without import for our topic. Anointing of religious figures was a common motif in ANE and AME religion anyway. I cannot find this anywhere either.]
Most of the above 'similarities' simply vanish, become irrelevant, or contribute nothing to the argument for some alleged 'identical lives' assertion for Horus and Jesus. To further highlight this, let's look at the thumbnail sketch of Horus' life given in Encyclopedia of Religions, s.v. "Horus":
"In ancient Egypt there were originally several gods known by the name Horus, but the best known and most important from the beginning of the historic period was the son of Osiris and Isis who was identified with the king of Egypt. According to myth, Osiris, who assumed the rulership of the earth shortly after its creation, was slain by his jealous brother, Seth. The sister- wife of Osiris, Isis, who collected the pieces of her dismembered husband and revived him, also conceived his son and avenger, Horus. Horus fought with Seth, and, despite the loss of one eye in the contest, was successful in avenging the death of his father and in becoming his legitimate successor. Osiris then became king of the dead and Horus king of the living, this transfer being renewed at every change of earthly rule. The myth of divine kingship probably elevated the position of the god as much as it did that of the king. In the fourth dynasty, the king, the living god, may have been one of the greatest gods as well, but by the fifth dynasty the supremacy of the cult of Re, the sun god, was accepted even by the kings. The Horus-king was now also "son of Re." This was made possible mythologically by personifying the entire older genealogy of Horus (the Heliopolitan ennead) as the goddess Hathor, "house of Horus," who was also the spouse of Re and mother of Horus.
"Horus was usually represented as a falcon, and one view of him was as a great sky god whose outstretched wings filled the heavens; his sound eye was the sun and his injured eye the moon. Another portrayal of him particularly popular in the Late Period, was as a human child suckling at the breast of his mother, Isis. The two principal cult centers for the worship of Horus were at Bekhdet in the north, where very little survives, and at Idfu in the south, which has a very large and well- preserved temple dating from the Ptolemaic period. The earlier myths involving Horus, as well as the ritual per- formed there, are recorded at Idfu."
Notice how "almost identical lives" Horus and Jesus had (smile):
There is no mention of the more striking claims of similarity made by the CopyCat authors (such as resurrection of El-Azar-us), even though such items would surely be noteworthy in books in the Western world(!);
This sketch does not even REMOTELY look 'almost identical' to the life of Jesus Christ! To look at this and make claims of 'majority overlap' would be ridiculous in the extreme.
The alleged similarities (which much MUST be present to even START the argument about borrowing, remember) are so weak and so dwarfed by the differences between the two figures, as to leave us wondering why anyone brought this argument up in the first place...
And finally, Krishna....
(Again, the list from the (submitted) website):
Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki ("Divine One")
He is called the Shepherd God.
He is the second person of the Trinity.
He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants.
He worked miracles and wonders.
In some traditions he died on a tree.
He ascended to heaven.
Looking a little more closely,
"In India a like tale is told of the beloved savior Krishna, whose terrible uncle, Kansa, was, in that case, the tyrant-king. The savior's mother, Devaki, was of royal lineage, the tyrant's niece, and at the time when she was married the wicked monarch heard a voice, mysteriously, which let him know that her eighth child would be his slayer. He therefore confined both her and her husband, the saintly nobleman Vasudeva, in a closely guarded prison, where he murdered their first six infants as they came. (emphasis mine).
"Traces of the original indigenous religion are plain in the later phases of the history of Hinduism. In the course of time, large shifts occur in the world of the gods. Some gods lose significance while others move into the foreground, until at last the 'Hindu trinity' emerges: Brahma, Visnu, and Siva..."
Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki ("Divine One") [We have already seen how these 'virgin birth' parallels are not close enough to constitute a 'compelling similarity', but this one is particularly inappropriate. The facts are simply otherwise--cf. Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology, p. 342:
According to the story, the mother had six normal children before the 7th and 8th 'special' kids--a rather clear indication that the mom was not a virgin when she conceived Krishna [remember, this is not an issue of 'special births', but of 'virgin' ones].
He is called the Shepherd God. [So he was a cow-herd...so what?...Simply a common religious title, not a 'compelling similarity'...and we noted above that even this was different when applied to Jesus.]
He is the second person of the Trinity. [This is a misunderstanding of the Hindu pantheon/s. The Hindu pantheon differs from the Christian trinity substantially (e.g., one's a pantheon and one isn't...). The biggest problem with the assertion, however, is that it is simply wrong. Although the Hindu pantheon has changed considerably over over time, Krsna has NEVER been the 'second person of a 3-in-1'. In the oldest layers of Hindu tradition--the Rig Veda--the dominant three were Agni, Ushas (goddess), and Indra, although there were a number of other important deities [WS:SW:84]. After the Vedic period (before 1000 bc), and before the Epic period (400 bc - 400 ad) is the period in which a DIFFERENT "trinity" emerged. So WR:RT:105:
Krishna was one of the avatars (manifestation, incarnation, theophany) of Visnu. As such, Krishna only appeared on the scene during the Epic period, and most of the legendary materials about him show up in the Harivamsa, or Genealogy of Visnu (fourth century a.d.) and in the Puranas (written between 300-1200 a.d.). He is one of TEN avatars of Visnu (what does that do to a trinity?). [WR:Eliade:133; WR:SW:91f; WR:RT:105f].
This is another exampe of someone 'loosely' using Christian terminology to describe non-Christian phenomena, and then being surprised by the similarity.
He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants. [Now, this is interesting. The only event in the life of Krsna I can find that is close to this kind of event is the story cited above at his birth, involving only 6 infants. How this person would turn that into "thousands" is beyond me (and probably beyond responsible writing as well). And, this motif of a king attempting to kill a supposed 'infant rival' is common to royal settings--not just divine ones. Hence, one can find this plot-line--a common one throughout human history--in the lives of Gilgamesh, Sargon, Cyrus, Perseus, and Romulous and Remus.(BM:227) This, of course, has nothing to do with mythology--it is simply a historical tendency of vicious kings...Herod's killing of some dozen or two children in Bethlehem is a matter of predictable aggression, not some 'mythic motif'...human monsters can be at least as grotesque as divine ones...)
He worked miracles and wonders. [Surprise, surprise--another religious leader is credited with miracles...Hmm, did Krishna 'borrow' from Buddha or from Thor? From Horus or from...?]
In some traditions he died on a tree.[The tree in India would in no way have the despicable connotations of the Roman cross of execution, even if this were true/known.]
From the standpoint of accuracy, let me mention that I cannot find any reference to him dying on a tree. The records (not from iconographic sources, btw) I have on his death run something like this :
"Krishna was accidentally slain by the hunter Jaras...when he was mistaken for a deer and shot in the foot, his vulnerable spot." (WR:SDFML, s.v. "krishna")
"One lance-like (poisonous, cursed) reed was eaten by a fish and then caught by a hunter. In a drinking bout, Krishna, Balarama, and the Yadavas picked the reeds, killing each other. As Krishna sat lost in thought, the hunter, mistaking him for a deer, shot him in the foot with the reed he had found in the fish, and killed him." [WR:DWM]
"Just after the war, Krsna dies, as he predicted he would, when, in a position of meditation, he is struck in the heel by a hunter's arrow." [WR:DAMY; was he meditating 'on a tree'?]
Perhaps he died sitting under a tree, but would that constitute a non-superficial parallel?
He ascended to heaven. [This is a misunderstanding of Hindu thought. "Heaven" is not actually a place in Hindu thought, for 'bodies to go', nor does one 'ascend' to it--especially not 'bodily' as did Jesus.
"At Balarama's death Krsna sat meditating; a hunter, Jara, pierced Krsna's feet by mistake, but afterwards, recognizing the hero, repented. Krsna left his body and entered heaven where he was greeted by the gods." [The Indian Theogony, Sukumari Bhattacharji, Cambridge:1970, p.305; note the difference between this and a 'bodily ascension of Jesus']
These similarities just don't seem to illustrate 'numerous, complex, detailed' parallels--of the type needed to suggest borrowing. And the differences between Jesus Christ and the Krishna of the legends is considerable. The earlier warrior-images of Krisha are those of a worthy and noble hero-type, but the later child/young man legends stand in stark contrast to Jesus. Krishnaic legends portray his playfulness and mischief in positive terms, but his consistent thievery (he stole cheese ROUTINELY from the villagers and lied about it to his mom--he was nicknamed the 'butter-thief' in the literature), his erotic adventures with all the cow-maidens of the village, his tricking the people into idolatrous worship of a mountain--just to irritate the god Indra, and the hiding of the clothes of the village women while they were bathing, and then forcing them to walk naked in front him before he would give the clothes back--these all draw a line between him and the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. [These stories can be found in the Myths of the Hindus and Buddhist reference above, as well as in many summaries of his legend.] The adult images of Krishna were considerably more 'worthy' and he came to be worshipped as a supreme deity. But his overall life (above) and his death as a hunting accident are so completely dissimilar to the life and voluntary crucifixion of the Son of God on earth. The similarities are paltry; the differences are staggering.
Finally are the figures that are allegedly linked by broader motifs such as 'miracle worker', 'savior' or 'virgin born'--along the line of the "divine man" or hero image in later times, without an explicit death/resurrection notion (e.g. Indra, Thor, Horus?)
These generally do not carry the force of the above categories, and so the borrowing/dependence claim is much weaker here. These 'overlaps' are simply explained:
"His birth, like that of many great warriors and heroes, is unnatural: kept against his will inside his mother's womb for many years, he burst forth out of her side and kills his own father" (Rig Veda 4.18, as discussed in EOR, s.v. "Indra")
Most of the overlapping traits are too generic to carry any force (e.g. miracle worker, savior, divine king)
Many of the overlapping traits are errors of equivocation (e.g. 'virgin births', sacrificial death--a martyr is not a sacrificial substitute)
Most of the overlapping traits and titles fall into the category of the general expression of ALL religion, and do not require a borrowing/dependence theory at all.
Most of the overlapping traits are dwarfed by the radical differences between Jesus and the figure in question. For example, the myth of Indra's 'miraculous' birth is given thus:
This cannot be remotely correlated with the birth of Christ, as neither can Indra's subsequent life as an immoral womanizer, a criminal punished by castration, and a declining failure to the end.
Even the older category of "Divine man" (theos aner) which was used to describe these figures, is a questionable construct for impacting the NT [NT:DictJG, s.v. "Divine man/theios aner"]:
"In NT scholarship the term Divine Man, or its Greek form Theios Aner, designates an alleged type of religio-philosophical hero, legendary or historical, which was more or less indigenous to Greece or at least Hellenism and whose representatives were characterized by moral virtue, wisdom and/or miraculous power so that they were held to be divine. As commonly used, the term excludes the traditional Greek gods (except Asclepius, who was believed to have lived a human-like existence on earth before his death and apotheosis). Rather, it encompasses figures who in spite of their divinity were still regarded as humans.
"Early on, for example, scholars pointed to Diaspora or Hellenistic Judaism as the cultural/religious medium through which the Theios Aner type came to influence the early church's presentation of Jesus. Hellenistic-Jewish Christians, so the argument runs, found it natural to portray Jesus as a Theios Aner in their attempt to defend and advance their new faith, since previously they had used precisely the same strategy in their efforts to promote OT heroes, especially Moses. This hypothesis, however, was carefully reviewed by C. Holladay, who analyzed three representatives of Hellenistic Judaism—Josephus, Philo and Artapanus—in order to observe how these authors presented Jewish heroes in their apologetic and propagandistic efforts. He concluded that, at least in the sources he studied, there is no evidence that in order to glorify Judaism or win converts Hellenized Jews tended to divinize their heroes or to amplify their thaumaturgical activities. Holladay’s work has forced a major reassessment of the theory that the Theios Aner concept was mediated to early Christianity via Hellenistic Judaism, and in fact has resulted in dampened enthusiasm for Theios Aner as an interpretative tool.
"Up until about thirty years ago, those who employed the Theios Aneras an analytic tool in Gospel studies believed that the Evangelists essentially synthesized the portrait of Jesus as a Theios Aner found in the miracle traditions with the perspective found in the sayings source Q and the passion and resurrection narratives. However, T. Weeden, anticipated by others, argued that Mark was actually a polemic against interlopers in the Markan community who brought with them a Theios Aner christology and the traditions which expressed it, principally the miracle stories. According to Weeden, such stories, which of course figure prominently in the first half of Mark, only appear to promote a Theios Aner interpretation of Jesus: “The Theios Aner position is set up only to be discredited by Jesus once the disciples confess to that position” (164). Now the way was clear to compare Mark with Paul, who himself, according to the prior research of D. Georgi, had done battle with earlier proponents of a Theios Aner christology at Corinth (see especially 2 Cor 10–13)...Initially, Weeden’s work engendered considerable support, particularly in North America. But by the early 1980s J. D. Kingsbury was able to chronicle a growing disenchantment with it. Increasing doubt about the viability of the Theios Aner concept and its relationship to the Son of God title, a growing tendency in Gospel studies to give priority to literary criticism rather than tradition-critical or history-of-religions considerations, and the sheer mass of miracles present in Mark (including several in the second half) have converged to under mine Weeden’s thesis."
One of the most interesting (and striking) of parallels is The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written by one Flavius Philostratus. DSG:203 summarizes the background and dating:
"One of the most famous in this succession of Pythagorean philosophers was a man named Apollonius, of the Greek city of Tyana in the Province of Cappadocia, in what is today eastern Turkey. Although he lived in the second half of the first century A.D., we have little direct information about Apollonius, except for this biography by Philostratus of Lemnos, written much later, i.e., around A.D. 218.
"When the emperor Caracalla was on his way to capture the territories to the East, he stopped at Tyana to pay tribute to 'the divine Apollonius,' even donating the funds to build a temple to him there. And Caracalla's mother, Julia Domna, commissioned one of the professional writers in her entourage to publish a fitting account of Apollonius' life. "
The incredible thing about this piece, though, is its strange similarities to some of the events in the gospel literature (but NOT necessarily to the life of Christ--BLOM:85,86). So DSG:203f:
"This conjunction of events suggests that the title of Philostratus' work might best be translated: 'In Honor of Apollonius of Tyana,' for the entire account from beginning to end consists of carefully constructed praise, using every device known to this well-trained writer. In other words, just as Caracalla's architects built a shrine for Apollonius out of marble, one of his court rhetoricians built a temple out of words--for the same purpose, i.e., to celebrate Apollonius' God-like nature and inspire reverence for him. Thus, Philostratus' narrative is a virtual catalogue of every rhetorical device known to the professional sophistic writers of that time: sudden supernatural omens, mini-dialogues on the favorite topics of the day, colorful bits of archeological lore, plenty of magic, rapid action scenes, amazing descriptions of fabled, far-off lands, occasional touches of naughty eroticism, and a whole series of favorite "philosophical" scenes: the Philosopher lectures his disciples on being willing to die for truth; the Philosopher is abandoned by his cowardly disciples; the Philosopher confronts the tyrant; the brave Philosopher is alone in prison unafraid; the Philosopher victoriously defends himself in the court, and so on. On the other hand, Philostratus included enough accurate historical details to give his writing the ring of genuine truth. But mixed in with the real people and places are all sorts of imaginary "official" letters, inscriptions, decrees, and edicts, the whole bound together by an "eyewitness" diary. Finally, to give it the proper supernatural flavor, he has included numerous miraculous and supernatural occurrences: dreams, pre-vision, teleportation, exorcism and finally, vanishing from earth only to reappear later from Heaven to convince a doubting disciple of the soul's immortality.
"Guiding Philostratus at each point in constructing his narrative was the reputation of Apollonius as a divine/human Savior God."
What is interesting here is that reverse-copying seems to be going on. Philostratus is setting out to 'honor' Apollonius and creates a rhetorical hodge-podge of praise. But some are convinced that Philostratus had the NT in front of him (esp. since he wrote the piece 150 years later than it). Elizabeth Haight observed:
"[Philostratus] wrote with full knowledge of Xenophon's romantic biography of Cyrus the Great as the ideal ruler, of the Greek novels of war and adventure, of the Greek love romances...and of the Christian Acts with a saint for a hero. [In view of all these possibilities] Philostratus chose to present a theos aner, a divine sage, a Pythagorean philosopher, as the center of his story. To make the life of his hero interesting and to promulgate his philosophy, he used every device of the Greek and Latin novels of the second and third centuries." (More Essays on Greek Romances, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1945, p. 111f; cited in DSG:205-206.
Other scholars also are convinced that Philostratus drew from the NT documents :
"In the case of the phrase 'divine man,' scholars cannot point to one clear and coherent concept--or collection of concepts--connected with the phrase 'divine man' that was current in Greco-Roman literature before or during the time of Jesus. To construct their concept of a 'divine man,' scholars of the 20th century have culled ideas from a vast array of Greek and Roman works from Homer up until the writings of the late Roman Empire. While the vague constant in the phrase "divine man" is divine power as revealed or embodied in some human being, the exact human referent ranges widely over priest-kings of Asia Minor and Egypt (including kingly magicians and law- givers), monarchs whose vast power on earth was believed to extend over nature itself (especially the Roman Emperors), and various kinds of prophetic philosophers (including ecstatics, magicians, miracle-workers, apostles, hero-sages, founders and leaders of religious groups, shamans, and charlatans). In many of the reconstructions, scholars rely heavily on works like The Death of Peregrinus and Alexander or the False Prophet by Lucian, the satirist of the 2d century A.D., and The Life of Apollonius by Philostratus, the rhetorician of the 3d century A.D. Lucian almost certainly knew the Christian Gospels, and Philostratus probably did as well." [MJ:2.596]
"There is also another factor which should be taken into consideration as one assesses Philostratus' Vita: the possibility that at some points the portrait of Apollonius has been influenced by the Gospels. In spite of the doubts of G. Petzke, there is reason to believe that such may have occurred. The strength of the Christian movement in the empire is amply attested by Celsus' True Discourse, written at the beginning of the last quarter of the second century. That Philostratus may have intended his work, at least to some degree, as anti-Christian polemic would also cohere well with the recent research of J. Buchli, who has made a cogent case for dating Poimandres around the middle of the third century (thus just a few years after the composition of the Vita Apollonii), and has argued that it "zeigt...sehr weitgehende christliche Einflusse," ['shows very pervasive Christian influences'] and should be regarded as a "paganisiertes Evangelium" ['pagan gospel']. One should therefore approach the Philostratean work in question with the acknowledgment that Christian influences may well have also been at work here." [X02:TAMMT:75]
"Why should Philostratus not have launched a new genre of pagan hagiography with an eye on the Gospels?" [HI:AREPJC:194]
Philostratus' work would become a focal point for anti-Christian polemic relative to Jesus:
"During the third and fourth centuries, and at least in one case as a direct result of Philostratus' portrait, Apollonius became a focal point of pagan reaction to Christianity. Special prominence was given to him shortly before the Great Persecution of Diocletian and Galerius in 303. The vicarius Orientis Sossianus Heirocles used Apollonius as the basis of a work comparing the sage with Jesus, in order to demonstrate Apollonius' superiority...An Egyptian poet named Soterichus, who wrote an encomium of Diocletian, is known also to have written a Life of Apollonius of Tyana, presumably with similar anti-Christian aims." [HI:AREPJC:176f]
And we don't know how much of his own story Philostratus actually believed (or expected others to believe):
Certainly by that time the events of the life of Jesus were well known to pagan elites--Celsus had really gone into detail in his attack on the faith--and the Vita reflects a mix of miracles, some from Jesus and some from Pythagoras' life (the actual model used by Philostratus for Apollonius in the Vita). But there is no mention of Christianity in the Vita, so why would he have 'borrowed' (or 'modeled') any of the narrative events from/on Jesus' life?
Some have actually suggested that Philostratus was trying to 'merge' some of the elements of Jesus with his ideas of what Hellenistic thought should look like::
But the Vita looks more like what Swain calls an 'apology for Hellenism', and was written to combat all forms of anti-Hellenism (including, but not limited to, Christianity). And the reason for the need had only just surfaced in the empire:
"The earliest of Eusebius' apologetical works was Against Hierocles...Eusebius composed it shortly before 303, after the army had been purged of Christians but apparently before Diocletian issued persecuting edicts which affected Christian civilians. Sossianus Hierocles (it is is known from other evidence) was governor of a province, probably of Augusta Libanensis, vicarius of a diocese, praeses of Bithynia in 303, and prefect of Egypt seven years later. Eusebius twice alludes to his adversary's official post in a way which implies that Hierocles was vicarius Orientis at the time of writing--and hence that before 303 he had already circulated his attack on Christianity in the East. After persecution began, Hierocles also published his polemic in the imperial capital of Nicomedia, this time in two books." [CAE:164f]
"There is certainly no need to suppose that everything in Apollonius was believed by Philostratus or intended to be believed. On occasion he excuses himself in Herodotean style by claiming that he has been obliged to set out such and such a story." [HI:AREPJC:179]
"It has been suggested recently that Philostratus made a major new contribution to religious life by legitimating the idea of ascetic living through the person of Apollonius. The idea that Philostratus rehabilitated Apollonius--the very opposite of Eusebius' reading--goes back in its modern form to the great nineteenth-century Church historian Baur, who saw Philostratus as a 'doubtful syncretistic mediator' who used a sanitized Apollonius to seek an accommodation with Christianity."' To find parallels (healings, exorcisms, doubting followers, ascension, the whole idea of mission) between Apollonius and Jesus and his disciples is not absurd [under this scenario]." [HI:AREPJC:193f]
In the cultural arena: "During the third century, however, there were a number of decisive changes in the cultural -political makeup of the Greek world. By its end, significant numbers of the educated were Christian, and the distinctive features of pagan culture in the Greek East were under serious threat. The heavyweight anti-Christian tracts of Plotinus and Porphyry show clearly that Christianity could not be ignored. There is no way of telling when it became clear that the new religion constituted a major problem. But if we look at the third century as a whole, Apollonius, which was written in the 220s or 230s, begins to look extremely important. For here we have for the first time a celebration and justification for society at large of a Hellenism which is defined primarily through a combination of religion and philosophy, rather than through the general cultural and political inheritance. This looks like a response to change at some level. Moreover, the work contains a lengthy technical apologia for philosophy as a spiritual system of personal living, and this amounts to a serious defense of fundamentals. That is enough to merit the work's inclusion in a volume on the phenomenon of apologetic discourse. 
In the political arena: "Philostratus reminds readers at the start of Apollonius that the work has been commissioned by the late Julia Domna, who was the wife of the new dynasty's founder, Septimius Severus. Here and elsewhere she is presented as a paragon of Hellenist virtue. But her nieces, the dominating mothers of the emperors Elagabal and Severus Alexander, were by no means fully committed to orthodox Hellenism, precisely in the sensitive matter of religion. Thus for the first time since the Hellenic revival in the time of Augustus, not everything could be taken for granted. An apology for the Greek way of life and a telling affirmation of its value were not at all beside the point.” [HI:AREPJC:159f]
As such a defense, it has to combat two 'enemies' of non-Hellenism: the eastern Oriental cults (cf. Elagabal!) and Christianity. But it has to do this is a way not likely to offend the royal court (see 'In the political arena' above...). One obvious way to do this is to build 'one composite pythagorean sage-hero out of two widely recognized sage-heroes'...
At any rate, the Vita does look like it has 'numerous, complex, and detailed' parallels to the NT literature (although not all agree on this point, I should add--several see the parallels as too different), and that some of these parallels are understood by scholars as Philostratus borrowing from the NT source. And, as we noted in our discussion of the 'the later church did it, so why wouldn't the early church do it too?', the fact that Philostratus did it, has no logical bearing on whether the NT authors did or not...there is always a gap between "would/could" and "was/did", and this gap must be filled in with evidence, not allegations and speculation.
What this means for us, is that one of the better examples of a candidate for 'borrowing' is in the wrong direction. And since the hero and the divine man concepts are either too general, too insignificant, or too 'late' to make a good case for the CopyCat theorist, we are back where we started--the uniqueness of Jesus the Christ and His life, death, and resurrection.
Thus, it is difficult to make a case for "material, significant, and pervasive" borrowing between Jesus and the plenitude of other religious deities of the world.
The Net of the allegation of material, significant, and pervasive borrowing:
For alleged parallels to be considered 'strong enough' for evaluation, the parallels must be numerous, complex, detailed, non-superficial, 'striking'/uncommon, difficult to explain expect by borrowing, central to the belief/text, sharing the same underlying ideas and related by system or structure.
The history-of-religions school, which saw the background of Paul's 'dying and rising with Christ' theology in the Mystery Religions (e.g., taurobolium ritual) has been essentially abandoned, due to the insufficiency of the parallels and the better explanatory power of newer theories, based on better data (e.g., DSS, unofficial Judaism at the time of Jesus)
The background for the New Testament is now seen to be in Judaism and the OT, instead of the cults of the Roman Empire.
The details of the Cybele-oriented taurobolium ceremony are vastly different in practice, purpose, and belief-content.
By scholarly criteria, there are no known very-close-parallels to the virgin conception as recorded in the New Testament.
Only data relevant to New Testament formation can count as evidence for 'creation' or 'modification' of some 'original' Jesus from pagan sources--not later church actions.
Any alleged syncretism by the later church does not in itself constitute data or evidence that the same process occured in NT times.
The 'stealing' of Christmas (as it is sometimes represented) is not a clear case of culpable syncretism; indeed, as an 'oppositional feast' it is the OPPOSITE of a syncretistic action.
All the data we have about Paul and the early church indicates that they were 'violently' anti-syncretistic, and exceptionally exclusivistic, and therefore pre-disposed to NOT accept anything 'tainted' by pagan theology.
The pagans in this period were not confused about the Church's exclusivity--they called the Christians 'atheists' because of their fundamental unwillingness to compromise or syncretize.
Long after the NT was finished, the church was thrust into a difficult situation when it became the "State Religion". The practical difficulties of trying to help immense numbers of new 'converts' created situations in which some reclaiming of traditional pagan elements had to be undertaken, albeit reluctantly and with all attempts to avoid confusing the folk.
But even through these semi-adaptations occured in later church history, the central creed of the faith remained the same during that time.
Another example sometimes advanced as a case of borrowing is the symbol of the Cross, but this was not used symbolically in the New Testament at all.
The religious language used in the New Testament was part of the shared vocabulary of the ancient word, and not the property of the cults. As such, these terms didn't have to be 'borrowed' from anyone, since no one 'owned them' exclusively.
Religious terms for religious leaders are examples of common, shared linguistic stock (often very general and arising all over the world) and not items that have to be 'borrowed'.
This usage of language was effective for the young church, for even her critics such as Celsus could see clearly how her doctrines of Christ and of the resurrection were different from pagan concepts.
The Frazerian concept of Dying and Rising gods (as set out in the Golden Bough) has been discredited and abandoned by modern scholarship.
There is no ambiguous data in antiquity--especially in records indigenous to each cult--to support the belief that DARGs existed (and/or are a meaningful conceptual construct for understanding the history of religion).
There is, therefore, no 'model' or 'models' from which the NT authors could have gotten this concept.
The various gods surveyed--Adonis, Baal, Attis, Marduk, Osiris, Tammuz and Melqart--do not conform to the Frazerian "pattern" of DARGs; they either don't really die, don't really rise after death, or both/neither...
Even in those cases in which the god dies or is 'raised', the parallels to Jesus are still quite superficial, and do not fit the criteria of 'numerous, complex, detailed, etc'.
The data from the later church fathers--seemingly disagreeing with the scholars--are too easily understood as Christian paranoia, Christian (mis)interpretation, or actual reports of actual imitative adaptations by the cults to the rising influence of Christianity.
There is evidence that the cults/empire did imitate aspects of the Christian community/belief system/praxis.
Justin Martyr's comments on the virgin birth do not offer strong support for the view that Christians believed that their set of miracles were 'same as' pagan ones.
Even the practices of the more general Mystery Religions are very different--especially at the underlying concept and structural level--than those used by the early church, in spite of some common elements (e.g., washing, common meals).
The MR's differed substantially from Christianity in areas of : initiation, baptism, "communion", salvation, the afterlife, rebirth, resurrection.
The death of Jesus was uniquely substitutionary, voluntary, purposeful.
The Christian difference in worldview, ethics, compassion, and social action was conspicious to the church's enemies and to those who longed for hope.
It is not at all clear as to what extent the pagans even believed their own myths.
The more general MR's of Isis/Serapis and Dionysos/Bacchus offer very few possible parallels even for consideration, and these are too general to have much force.
Jesus' turning water into wine is not believed to have been 'based on' the various miraculous traditions in the Dionysos cult (but rather on the Judaic background).
Neither the Roman nor the Indian/Iranian versions of the Mithras cults offer a DARG or even 'striking parallels' in matters of practice. The parallels accepted by scholars some 30 years ago have all either been abandoned or come under serious doubt recently.
Paul's being born in Tarsus--a hotbed of MR cult activity--does not seem to influence him. His writing style and missionary style show no influence of his background in Tarsus.
Alleged parallels between Jesus and Buddha--at a numerous, complex, and detailed level--are not recognized by scholars deeply familiar with both traditions.
Horus is particularly 'unlike' Jesus of Nazareth.
Alleged parallels between Jesus and Krishna--at a numerous, complex, and detailed level--do not exist.
The category of Divine Man--once thought to be a concept useful in explaining the origin of some of Jesus' literary characteristics--has lost its following in scholarship over the past 30 years.
Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, seems to be dependent on the New Testament literature--and not vice versa.
That these similarities are of such a nature to either require borrowing, or be best explained by borrowing;
This point is rather moot--we do not have anything to explain.
But, for the sake of argument and completeness...let's move on to the issue of...
That we can come up with a historically plausible explanation of HOW the borrowing occurred;
Additional resource(s) used:
[X02:TAMMT] Theios Aner and the Markan Miracle Traditions: A Critique of the Theios Aner Concept as an Interpretive Background of the Miracle Traditions Used by Mark. Barry Blackburn. Tubingen: Mohr, 1991. (revision of Ph.D thesis of 1986 for Univ. of Aberdeen]