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The Resurrection of Jesus Comes from Ancient Religious Myths?

Original Photo taken by A. Parrot
Original Photo taken by A. Parrot

In the continuing series of arguments that atheists use to attack the New Testament, I will focus now on the claim made by atheist scholars that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was developed from mythical stories that preceded the resurrection accounts in the New Testament. One such scholar who puts forward this idea is Dr. Richard Carrier, among others. Regarding Christians borrowing from “dying and rising gods,” Dr. Carrier states:

So, it is far more likely a resurrected Adonis cult was not new. The more so as we can confirm several other examples of clearly pre-Christian dying and rising gods well known across the Roman Empire: the savior cult Zalmoxis (of Thracian origin) is clearly attested in Herodotus centuries before Christianity; the imperial cult of the resurrected Romulus is likewise attested in several pre-Christian authors…and the Egyptian savior cult of the resurrected Osiris is likewise undeniably ancient (Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014).

Is Dr. Carrier’s contention supported by evidence? Does Dr. Carrier offering multiple sources for the “resurrection myth” strengthen his case? It will be helpful to conduct a brief survey of the myths that Carrier mentions and we’ll go over those in more detail in the next blog post. But first, before getting into the details, let’s talk about a major problem that Dr. Carrier has “right out of the gate.”

In the field of argumentation and debate, there are certain rules that govern how one should proceed when arguing with someone. In making one’s case or arguing against the view of an opponent, sometimes, improper arguments are made. One way someone can make an improper argument is by basing an argument on flawed reasoning. A logical fallacy is one such violation of the rules of argumentation. One such logical fallacy is labeled by a phrase in Latin. The “Post hoc ergo propter hoc (translated “after this, therefore because of this”)” is the logical fallacy or error that just because event X occurred before event Y, it does not mean that event X caused event Y. Assuming that the Prohibition movement (making the sale of alcohol illegal in the U.S.-1920-1933) came as a result of the Azusa Street Revival (1906) would be an example of someone committing this sort of fallacy.

So, what would be needed to prove that the Azusa Street Revival was the cause of Prohibition? One would need historical evidence that the two events were linked or that there was a causal connection between the revival and Prohibition. For instance, to prove this, you would need articles or writings from the leaders of the revival that the United States should vote to prohibit the sale of alcohol nationwide and maybe articles about how the growing support for Prohibition came out of the revival. But the truth is that just because the Azusa Street Revival preceded Prohibition in history doesn’t mean that the revival was the cause of the prohibition movement.

But this is what Dr. Carrier is doing even as he offers his argument. Just because the mythical accounts of these different figures who came before Christianity and supposedly arose from the dead does not mean that the resurrection accounts were derived from these mythical stories. Dr. Carrier needs to show the historical connection between mythical adherents and early Christians (i.e. the earlier group influencing the later group). Can Dr. Carrier show us historical examples of the intermingling of the followers of Inanna or Osiris with early Christians? Can he give an example of the adherents of Zalmoxis meeting with and joining Christians? Does Dr. Carrier have a historical text showing where early Christian writers discuss the merits of these ancient resurrection stories? Does Dr. Carrier have any evidence of a connection between these ancient religious myths and the resurrection account of Jesus in the New Testament? I don’t think that Dr. Carrier can give us any examples of this occurring. Without any historical proof that the followers of these mythical religions interacted with early Christians or even influenced them, then why should we give Dr. Carrier’s theory any credence at all? Dr. Carrier improperly commits a logical fallacy as he assumes that the resurrection is a borrowed myth from other, earlier mythical religious traditions.

Besides are there any New Testament Scriptures that mention the aforementioned mythical gods? I have not seen them. However, we do see the influence of another religion throughout the New Testament- Judaism. Specifically, regarding his future death and resurrection, Jesus responds to the Pharisees request for a sign by stating, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:39) .” This reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus in comparison to Jonah and the whale doesn’t come from Zalmoxis or Osiris but it comes from the Old Testament (Jonah 1:17). Weren’t the disciples Jewish? Wasn’t the Christian faith birthed in Judea?

A related reason to Dr. Carrier committing a logical fallacy is that he doesn’t use relevant evidence based upon facts. The Federal Rules of Evidence give guidance on relevant evidence. According to Rule 401, evidence is relevant, “if (a) it has the tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action”(Cornell University School of Law: 2014).” Does Dr. Carrier offering information about mythical dying and rising gods prove that there was a pass down of mythical stories to Christians? In addition to this rule, another rule coming from the Federal Rules of Evidence that is relevant to this issue is rule 104b which states that when relevance of evidence depends on whether a fact exists, “proof must be introduced sufficient to support a finding that the fact does exist.” Does Dr. Carrier support his supposition with some sort of proof? He just does not offer any evidence that there was a connection between the resurrection of Jesus and these religio-mythical devotees. In the next blog post in this series, we’ll go into more detail about these mythical stories to see if they resemble the resurrection accounts of Jesus.


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