Zeitgeist (a German phrase that means "the spirit of the age") is the name of an online video (first released in June 2007) that is making quite an impact on its viewers. In this video, Peter Joseph, the writer and director, seeks to persuade his viewers that the authors of the New Testament borrowed the idea of Jesus' virgin birth, December 25th birth date, twelve disciples, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection from astrological sources and ancient pagan mystery religions that were around long before the time of Christ. The video even goes so far as to claim that Jesus never existed. Well, these claims are so outrageous, we're glad you've taken the time to investigate them for, as you will see shortly, there is an abundance of evidence that Peter Joseph has greatly erred in his claims.
Below you'll find some of the claims in the video followed by helpful responses and quotations by scholars, historians, world religion experts, Christian apologists and others, as well as links to in-depth articles and books that offer a much more thorough refutation of many of the errors in the first part of the film. (The second and third part of the film deal with areas outside of the scope of this ministry.)
CLAIM 1: THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNT WAS STOLEN FROM EARLIER SOURCES
Charlie Campbell, Director of the Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry, says, "Many of the charges put forth in Zeitgeist are based on outdated, disproved ideas that were in circulation at the beginning of the last century. Here is one example. Zeitgeist states that Attis (a Roman deity) was crucified, dead for three days and then resurrected. This is absolutely not true to the mythological account. In the mythological story, Attis was unfaithful to his goddess lover, and in a jealous rage she made him insane. In that insanity, Attis castrated himself and fled into the forest, where he bled to death. As J. Gresham Machen points out, "The myth contains no account of a resurrection; all that Cybele [the Great Mother goddess] is able to obtain is that the body of Attis should be preserved, that his hair should continue to grow, and that his little finger should move." Zeitgeist's claims that Attis was crucified and resurrected are not only inaccurate but very misleading. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The alleged resurrection of Attis isn't even mentioned until after 150 A.D., long after the time of Jesus."
Dr. Norman Geisler, author of more than 70 books, writes, “The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity. So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament [resurrection] on mythology, not the reverse. The only known account of a god surviving death that predates Christianity is the Egyptian cult god Osiris. In this myth, Osiris is cut into fourteen pieces, scattered around Egypt, then reassembled and brought back to life by the goddess Isis. However, Osiris does not actually come back to physical life but becomes a member of a shadowy underworld...This is far different than Jesus’ resurrection account where he was the gloriously risen Prince of life who was seen by others on earth before his ascension into heaven....even if there are myths about dying and rising gods prior to Christianity, that doesn't mean the New Testaments writers copied from them. The fictional TV show Star Trek preceded the U.S. Space Shuttle program, but that doesn’t mean that newspaper reports of space shuttle missions are influenced by Star Trek episodes!” (I Don't Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist , 2004, p. 312).
Dr. Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, says, “Parallels between the pagan myths of dying and rising gods and the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are now regarded as remote, to say the least...If anyone borrowed any ideas from anyone, it seems it was the gnostics who took up Christian ideas." (Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths, 1993, p. 121).
Charlie Campbell says, “Zeitgeist claims that Mithra, a mythological Persian deity, was dead for three days and then resurrected. I am no scholar on ancient Mithraism, but nowhere in any of the reading I’ve done on the topic has Mithra’s death even been discussed, let alone Zeitgeist’s story about three days in a grave and a resurrection. Edwin Yamauchi, a historian and author of the 578 page Persia and the Bible concurs. He says, ‘We don’t know anything about the death of Mithras’ (The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 172).”
Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. J.P. Moreland write, "Not one clear case of any alleged resurrection teaching appears in any pagan text before the late second century A.D., almost one hundred years after the New Testament was written." (Cited by Dan Story in The Christian Combat Manual: Helps for Defending your Faith: A Handbook for Practical Apologetics, 2007, p. 206).
Dr. William Lane Craig, says, "(W)e find almost no trace of cults of dying and rising gods in first century Palestine. Moreover, as Hans Grass observes, it would be "unthinkable" in any case that the original disciples would come sincerely to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead just because they had heard myths about Osiris!" (Dr. William Lane Craig, "Reply to Evan Fales: On the Empty Tomb of Jesus," 2001).
Dr. Ronald Nash, the author of many books including The Meaning of History and The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? writes, "Which mystery gods actually experienced a resurrection from the dead? Certainly no early texts refer to any resurrection of Attis. Attempts to link the worship of Adonis to a resurrection are equally weak. Nor is the case for a resurrection of Osiris any stronger. After Isis gathered together the pieces of Osiris's dismembered body, he became "Lord of the Underworld."....And of course no claim can be made that Mithras was a dying and rising god. French scholar Andre Boulanger concludes: "The conception that the god dies and is resurrected in order to lead his faithful to eternal life is represented in no Hellenistic mystery religion." (The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?, p. 161-162)
H. Wayne House writes, “Various mystery religions did exist from early times in Greece; however, it only after the first century A.D. that we begin to have much data on them. It is more likely, therefore, that the mystery religions, observing the success of orthodox Christianity, began to mimic its beliefs and practices, rather than the other way around.” (Cited by Dan Story in The Christian Combat Manual: Helps for Defending your Faith: A Handbook for Practical Apologetics, 2007, p. 207).
Dr. Ben Witherington, an eminent New Testament scholar and author of more than 30 books, writes, “Here’s the big point: Joseph [the producer of Zeitgeist] reads the story of Jesus back into these other mythological stories, and then claims–shazam–the story of Jesus comes from these other stories, which he has anachronistically read in light of the Jesus story. This is both bad history and bad religious analysis. To my knowledge there is no story that dates from before the time of Jesus that has most of the specific elements listed in the film as distinguishing the Jesus story. For example the story of a virginal conception, crucifixion, or bodily resurrection of a divine son of God.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")
CLAIM 2: THE ACCOUNT OF THE THREE KINGS WAS STOLEN
Charlie Campbell says, "The claim in the movie Zeitgeist that Christianity borrowed the idea of “three kings” for its nativity story from ancient religions is ludicrous. The Bible knows nothing of “three kings” showing up after Jesus’ birth. Three kings is an idea that occasionally appears on some poorly researched Christmas cards, but not in the Bible. Matthew’s gospel simply says, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem” (Matt. 2:1). The magi were known as wise men, not kings. During the Middle Ages legend did develop that the magi were kings and that they were three in number, but this is purely legend, not something taught in the Scriptures. Zeitgeist’s deceptive attack on the credibility of the Gospel accounts only reveals its lack of credibility when it comes to scholarly research."
Joel McDurmon writes, "Zeitgeist informs us that the “three kings” are the three brightest stars in the constellation Orion’s belt, which align with Sirius (the Star in the East) to point to the place of the sunrise (Birth of the Sun). The movie assures us that, “These 3 bright stars are called today what they were called in ancient times: The Three Kings.” Same old problem, however: no sources except for their pet nineteenth-century authors; nothing before 1822." (Zeitgeist The Movie Exposed: Is Jesus an Astrological Myth?, p. 42).
CLAIM 3: JESUS NEVER EXISTED
Charlie Campbell says, “To insist that Jesus Christ is a myth—that He never existed—as the Zeitgeist movie does, is foolish. Beside the twenty seven New Testament documents that verify He lived, there are thirty nine sources outside of the Bible, written within 150 years of Jesus life that mention Him. These sources include the Jewish Talmud, the Roman historian Tacitus, the Didache, Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, the Gnostic gospels (e.g., the gospel of Thomas), etc. These extrabiblical sources reveal to us more than 100 facts about His life, teaching, death and even resurrection. The Encyclopedia Britannica, fifteenth edition, devotes 20,000 words to the person of Jesus Christ and never once hints that He didn’t exist. Don’t be fooled by Zeitgeist, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7)."
Ben Witherington says, "Both Jewish historians like Josephus, and Roman ones like Tacitus and later Suetonius are perfectly clear Jesus actually existed, and Tacitus tells us he died on a cross, being executed under Pilate. Apparently, Mr. Joseph [producer of Zeitgeist] couldn't even give this one fact straight. There is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for the historical existence of Julius Caesar for example....The only persons who doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth are those who either hate Christianity and so want it to disappear, or those who have not bothered to do the proper historical homework." ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")
For additional help on this issue, read: "Did Jesus Really Exist?" by Dr. Paul L. Maier or "Ancient Non Christian Sources for the Life of Christ" by Dr. Gary Habermas
CLAIM 4: THE DECEMBER 25 DATE WAS STOLEN
Charlie Campbell says, “Another pitiful criticism put forth in the movie Zeitgeist is that the authors of the New Testament borrowed the December 25th date for Jesus’ birth from ancient pagan sources. This is ridiculous. Have the producers of Zeitgeist even read the New Testament? Where in the New Testament do we read of any date associated with the birth of Jesus? Nowhere! We have no idea when Jesus was born. The December 25 date originated long after the Gospels were written. Edwin Yamauchi, an author, professor, first rate historian and authority on the world of the first Christians, says that it was not until about 336 A.D. that the December 25 date became the official date to celebrate Jesus’ birth. The sheer absence of any date in the New Testament documents is sufficient enough to overturn Zeitgeist’s claim; Yamauchi’s word on the matter is another nail in the coffin.”
Dr. Ben Witherington says, “The Bible says nothing about the specific date or time of Jesus’ birth. Most scholars think it was in the spring due to the description of the shepherds being in the fields with their sheep.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")
CLAIM 5: THE ACCOUNT OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH WAS STOLEN
Daniel B. Wallace writes, "The virgin birth of the pagan god Dionysus is attested only in post-Christian sources...several centuries after Christ." (Reinventing Jesus, p. 242).
Edwin Yamauchi says, "There's no evidence of a virgin birth for Dionysus. As the story goes, Zeus, disguised as a human, fell in love with the princess Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, and she became pregnant. Hera, who was Zeus's queen, arranged to have her burned to a crisp, but Zeus rescued the fetus and sewed him into his own thigh until Dionysus was born. So this is not a virgin birth in any sense." (The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 180).
Edwin Yamauchi says, "Despite the claims of obvious and profound parallels between Christianity and Mithraism, when one looks at the evidence an entirely different picture emerges. First, Mithra was not thought of as virgin born in the most ancient myths; rather, he arose spontaneously from a rock in a cave." (Cited in Reinventing Jesus, p. 242). Lee Strobel adds, "Unless the rock is considered a virgin, this parallel with Jesus evaporates." (The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 171).
Charlie Campbell says, "The virgin birth of the Messiah spoken about in Matthew and Luke was not lifted from pagan religions. It was the fulfillment of a prophecy given in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (7:14) six or seven hundred years before Jesus' birth. And many Bible commentators also believe Genesis 3:15 prophesies the virgin birth seeing that the Messiah would be born solely of the woman's seed."
Charlie Campbell says, "The Zeitgeist movie says that Krishna, a supposed incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, was born of a virgin. Edwin Yamauchi says, "That's not accurate. Krishna was born to a mother who already had seven previous sons, as even his followers concede." (Quoted by Lee Strobel in The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 182).
CLAIM 6: THE TIME OF JESUS' BIRTH IS CONNECTED WITH THE ASTROLOGICAL CYCLE
Ben Witherington writes, “Much is made by Mr. Joseph [producer of Zeitgeist] about how in 1 A.D. a new ‘age’ or astrological cycle begins, after the age of the Ram. Unfortunately for Mr. Joseph, Jesus was born somewhere between 2-6 B.C. He was not born in 1 A.D. How do we know this? Because Jesus was born whilst Herod the Great was still king of the Holy land, and the records are clear that Herod died about 2 B.C. ergo Jesus had to be born before then (see my articles on these matters in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). How then do we have our modern calendar? Well it was set by a gentleman named Dionysius the short…who had to much time on his hands, and estimated the turn of the era to be at the juncture we now have it, based on when he thought Jesus was born. He was off by four or so years. In any case, the birth of Jesus transpires before the supposed turn of the ages in the astrological schema touted by Mr. Joseph. Jesus’ birth certainly did not usher in the age of Pisces or the fish. The fish symbol comes into Christianity from the gematric value of the Greek word ICHTHUS–with each letter standing for a word, in this case Insous, Christos, theos, uios and soter–Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. It would be nice as well if at least he could get the astrology and symbology part right–but alas, abandon hope, he hasn’t even properly done his homework on that subject either.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")