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Jesus & Mithra Parallels - A Christian Response

Hardly. Before reading this list, a little background on the Mithraic religion is in order. Mithra was a Persian god dating back to roughly 1400 B.C. It later sprang up in Rome after Christian times, with a severely different story to it. Here is the list given, with my responses:

1. Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds.

There is no support for the idea that Mithra was born of a virgin. And since nowhere in the New Testament does it state that Jesus was born on December 25th, this could not be called a comparison. Also, Mithra was formed within a solid mountain, not within a cave. While, logically, a cave was left behind once Mithra dug himself out, saying he was born in a cave is wrong. There are texts suggesting that shepherds were present at Mithra’s birth and helped dig him out of the mountain, but these are Roman texts dating to no earlier than the 2nd century A.D., and thus were most likely influenced by the New Testament writings, instead of being an influence upon them.

2. He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.

First of all, any religious figure could logically be described as a great traveling teacher and master. However, this label does NOT seem to apply to Mithra. Great and Master, perhaps. But nowhere in his story does he travel or teach.

3. He had 12 companions or disciples.

In the Persian version of the Mithra story, he has one disciple, Varuna. In the Roman version, he has two, Cautes and Cautopatres. The source for this claim seems to be an old carving of Mithra slaying a bull while 12 people watch on. That these 12 people are companions or disciples is not suggested, and besides, this carving dates to post-Christian times anyways, so if they WERE meant to be disciples of some sort, they were likely influenced by Christianity, not the other way around.

4. Mithra's followers were promised immortality.

The earliest references to Mithra’s followers being promised immortality date to around 200 A.D. So again, this was likely influenced by Christianity, not the other way around.

5. He performed miracles.

This is true, and claims of Mithra’s miracles do date to the pre-Christian Persian versions. But miracles themselves date to far earlier (Noah story, anyone?). So the idea that Jesus’ miracles were inspired by Mithra’s miracles is rather ridiculous. Since Mithra never did anything which equates to Jesus’ miracles (such as walking on water or raising the dead), this could not be called a significant comparison.

6. As the "great bull of the Sun," Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.

Mithra slayed a bull. He was not a bull. He did not slay himself or sacrifice himself in any sense, and the slaying of the bull wasn’t for world peace. For that matter, Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t for world peace, either, but for salvation for those individuals who choose to follow Him.

7. He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.

There’s no references in any Mithraic literature to Mithra dying at all, much less being resurrected. There are some external sources suggesting that Mithra died (though how he died is not made clear), but these date to the 4th century at the earliest. I’d say that this would mean they were inspired by Christianity, but since they don’t mention any burial in a tomb or resurrection, I’d say we couldn’t call it ‘inspired’ at all.

8. His resurrection was celebrated every year.

Again, no resurrection.

9. He was called "the Good Shepherd"and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.

Mithra was never called ‘the good shepherd’ or identified with any lamb. He was identified with a lion, but since the lion is associated with Judeo-Christianity all the way back to the book of Genesis, this hardly suggests that Jesus’ lion was inspired by Mithra’s lion. And besides, any references to lions in Mithraic literature date to post-Christian times, making this even less significant.

10. He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."

Mithra was never called any of these things, even in the Roman version of Mithraism

11. His sacred day was Sunday, the "Lord's Day," hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.

Mithraists did not appoint Sunday as Mithra’s day until post-Christian times.

12. Mithra had his principal festival of what was later to become Easter.

Mithra had several special days, but all were in September or October. Mithraists did apparently celebrate the beginning of each season, so there was a celebration at the beginning of spring, but this wasn’t any ‘principal festival’, and the celebration was only for the season itself, not for Mithra.

13. His religion had a eucharist or "Lord's Supper," at which Mithra said, "He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved."

The closest thing the Mithraic religion has to Jesus’ last supper is the celebration of a meal Mithra had with the sun god after slaying the bull. But nowhere is this called a ‘eucharist’ or ‘Lord’s Supper’, and since it happened AFTER Mithra’s ‘sacrifice’ and not before (as Jesus’ was), it’s hardly a comparison. As for the quote, the earliest quote along these lines in Mithraic texts dates to post-Christian times and, besides that, wasn’t said by Mithra, but by Zarathustra.

14. His annual sacrifice is the passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement or pledge of moral and physical regeneration.

First, Mithra’s sacrifice was not of himself, but of a bull. I’m not sure why the skeptics are using the word ‘annual’ in here, since it only happened once. And the sacrifice did not happen on any sort of Passover, nor was it an atonement of anything.

15. Shmuel Golding is quoted as saying that 1 Cor. 10:4 is "identical words to those found in the Mithraic scriptures, except that the name Mithra is used instead of Christ."

So why hasn’t Golding allowed anyone else to see these texts? Are they the pre-Christian Persian texts, or the post-Christian Roman texts? Until Golding opens these texts up for scrutiny, we can do no more than take his word for it. My best guess is that, if these texts exist, they were inspired by 1 Cor 10:4, not the other way around.

16. The Catholic Encyclopedia is quoted as saying that Mithraic services were conducted by "fathers" and that the "chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called 'Pater Patratus.'"

Yes, the Catholic Encyclopedia apparently does say these things. But what the critics fail to mention is that it’s describing Mithraic services conducted afterChristian times, and thus services and figureheads likely inspired by Christian services and figureheads. The mention of the ‘chief of fathers’ always living at Rome is pretty clear evidence that it’s referring to only Roman Mithraism. Why would the Persian Mithraists have a figurehead in Rome?

Links:
Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras
Encyclopedia Mythica: Mithra
The Iranian: Mithra
Probert Encyclopedia: Other Mythology (I-Z)
Tekton: Mithra
Epologetics: Debunking The Jesus/Mithra Myth

 

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