Friday, April 10, 2009

Are the Claims in Zeitgeist true? Part 2

This is the second part of the article refuting the claims made in the Zeitgeist movie. Take a read of Part 1 first.



Charlie Campbell writes, “Zeitgeist claims that the events surrounding Mithra’s life were stolen by the New Testament authors. These claims are not credible. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica concedes that Mithraism (the religion associated with Mithra) could not have influenced the Gospel writers. It states, “There is little notice of the Persian god [Mithra] in the Roman world until the beginning of the 2nd century, but, from the year AD 136 onward, there are hundreds of dedicatory inscriptions to Mithra. This renewal of interest is not easily explained. The most plausible hypothesis seems to be that Roman Mithraism was practically a new creation, wrought by a religious genius who may have lived as late as c. AD 100 and who gave the old traditional Persian ceremonies a new Platonic interpretation that enabled Mithraism to become acceptable to the Roman world” (Article entry: Mithraism 2004 edition). The four Gospels were done well before the close of the first century. If Mithraism wasn’t even known in the Roman world in the first century, as the Encyclopedia Britannica says, then it is misguided to suggest that teachings regarding Mithra influenced the Gospel writers.”

Ron Nash writes, "Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth—at least during its early stages.... During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook….Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians." (Christianity and the Hellenistic World, p. 144).

Ben Witherington writes, “We really do not have ancient sources on Mithra, comparable to what we have on Moses and the Israelites. Most of what we know about Mithraism comes from the NT era and later. There is no good historical reason to think Mithraism is the origins of either Judaism or Christianity.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")

The apostle Peter wrote, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain" (2 Peter 1:16-18).



Dr. Edwin Bryant, is Professor of Hinduism at Rutgers University and a scholar on Hinduism. He translated the Bhagavata-Purana (life of Krishna) for Peguine World Classics and is the author of Krishna: A Sourcebook. When asked about the claim that Krishna [a Hindu god] had been crucified, he replied, "That is absolute and complete non-sense. There is absolutely no mention anywhere which alludes to a crucifixion." He added that Krishna was killed by an arrow from a hunter who accidentally shot him in the heal. He died and ascended. It was not a resurrection. (Cited in "A Refutation of Acharya S's book, The Christ Conspiracy" by Mike Licona. The Christ Conspiracy is the source for many of the claims in Zeitgeist).

Zeitgeist claims the idea of the crucifixion was stolen.Edwin Yamauchi says, "All of these myths are repetitive, symbolic representations of the death and rebirth of vegetation. These are not historical figures, and none of their deaths were intended to provide salvation. In the case of Jesus, even non-Christian authorities, like Josephus and Tacitus, report that he died under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. The reports of his resurrection are quite early and are rooted in eyewitness accounts. They have the ring of reality, not the ethereal qualities of myth." (Quoted by Lee Strobel in The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 178).


Joel McDurmon writes, "Zeitgeist goes on to claim that “probably the most obvious of all the astrological symbolism around Jesus regards the 12 disciples,” which, the movie states, are “the 12  constellations of the  Zodiac, which Jesus, being the Sun, travels about with.” Why anyone would consider this “the most obvious” of such evidence I don’t know—I’ve never heard it until now. Were it so obvious you would expect it to be widely claimed. Further, what makes it so “obvious”? The only similarity between the two is the number twelve, for which examples can be found anywhere. The most “obvious” of these, to any “real” researcher is the  twelve tribes of Israel. Since Jesus was fulfilling the Old Covenant, and was instituting the New Covenant, He was choosing the Jesus with disciples.jpg“New” twelve tribes. Jesus himself said that the disciples would sit as judges over the  twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). This is a genuine historical parallel which is reinforced in the book of Revelation, when these two twelves are joined together in New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12–14). Why stretch for such wild  parallels in the stars when the Bible is self-consistent in its symbolism? Biblical theology needs no help from the  astrologers that it despises anyway. The movie even notices that “the number 12 is replete throughout the bible,” but then misses the impact of that fact and concludes arbitrarily, “This text has more to do with astrology than anything else.” If the Bible contains the number twelve throughout, why go outside the Bible to interpret what significance “12 disciples” may have? To do so betrays a desire to impose a non-Biblical meaning onto the Biblical text." (Zeitgeist The Movie Exposed: Is Jesus an Astrological Myth?, p. 56).

Dr. Ben Witherington says, “What about the claim that the twelve disciples represent the 12 constellations of the Zodiac? Well once again, Mr. Joseph [the producer of Zeitgeist] has not bothered to do his homework. There was this little entity called the 12 tribes of Israel, going back to Jacob and his 12 sons. Those stories in Genesis are not astrological in character at all, but rather are explanations of a historical origins of a people. The 12 disciples are chosen by Jesus, not because he was a stargazer, but because he was attempting to reform, and indeed re-form Israel. The twelve disciples represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and you will remember that Jesus promised that at the eschaton [Jesus’ coming kingdom] they will be sitting on 12 thrones, judging those 12 tribes [see Matthew 19:28]. Once more, this is a sort of historical and eschatological thinking, not a sort of astrological thinking, and the claim that the Bible has more to do with astrology than anything else, can only be called a category mistake. Clearly, Mr. Joseph has done no work whatsoever in the study of the various genre of Biblical literature which he could have gotten from any standard introduction to the Bible, even those written by agnostics and skeptics.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")


Dr. Ben Witherington says, “Unfortunately it [Zeitgeist] gets most of the story of Horus wrong. He claims the Horus myth says he was born on Dec. 25th, born of a virgin, star in the east, worshipped by kings, and Were stories about Horus the source for the life of Christ?was a teacher by 12. This he claims was the original form of the myth in 3000 B.C. It would be nice to know how Mr. Joseph learned this, since we don’t have any ancient Egyptians texts that go back that far on this matter. Furthermore this disinformation he gives in the film is refuted by numerous analysis of the proper sources.…again not only is Mr. Joseph guilty of falsely blending together various different religions which developed largely regionally and independently of each other, he is actually guilty of falsifying some of the claims made in the Egyptian myths…Ironically he does a disservice to all the religions he discusses….I could go on about the egregious errors in his presentation of Horus, who was not called the lamb of God, and was not crucified and resurrected, even in the myth. The story of Horus is of course the story of the rebirth of the sun in east, and it is based on the cycles of nature, not on any sort of historical claims at all, unlike the story of Jesus. But more to the point the story of Horus does not include many of the elements that Joseph claims it does–shame on him for not doing his homework properly even on Egyptology.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")

Dr. Ben Witherington says, “There was no such thing as the concept of bodily resurrection in Egyptian religion, and certainly not of a mythological deity, Horus, was not believed to have a human body. Sometimes commentators will use the term resurrection to speak loosely about an afterlife in another world, not a bodily return to this world.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")


Dr. Ben Witherington says, “Mr. Joseph [producer of Zeitgeist] thinks it [the origin of the symbol of the cross] derives from the cross in the Zodiac imposed on the circle of the 12 astrological signs of the Zodiac. ZodiacThere are various problems with this theory. First of all consider the most basic ancient zodiac pattern we have-- for example in the floor of the synagogue at Sepphoris. Jews, like every other group of agrarian peoples were interested in the weather and the seasons. Do we find a cross pattern? [See the picture of the Zodiac to left]....My point is symbol. Mr. Joseph has done no first hand historical work on ancient Zodiac symbols, he has simply believed the pablum he has imbibed from various of his out-dated, and inaccurate sources. The origin of the symbol of the cross of course derives from the Roman practice of crucifixion, not from some supposed astrological pattern. Jesus died in 30 A.D. on a cross outside of Jerusalem, a victim of Roman injustice as even the Romans admitted.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")


Josephus, the first century Roman historian mentions Jesus in two different places.Dr. Ben Witherington says,“The works of Josephus are certainly not fraudulent. As is typical of Mr. Joseph [producer of Zeitgeist] he may have heard there are probably some Christian interpolations in the later editions of Josephus, since Christians loved and used the work, but all of the Josephus scholars I know in the guild, and there are some good ones (Greg Sterling and Steve Mason come to mind) are quite clear that these are genuine works from Josephus. The important point for our purposes is that no Josephus scholar, known to me, including Jewish ones, thinks that the passages in his works about John the Baptizer and Jesus are all later interpolations.” ("The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'")

Louis Feldman, the prominent Josephus scholar and author, who is not a Christian, said, “My guess is that the ratio of those [scholars] who in some manner accept the Testimonium [to those who reject all of it as an interpolation] would be at least 3 to 1.  I would not be surprised if it would be as much as 5 to 1.” (In an email to New Testament scholar Mike Licona)


Joel McDurmon writes, "Zeitgeist tells us that the story of Noah’s Ark and the Flood is not unique: The concept of a Great Flood is ubiquitous throughout the ancient world, with over 200 different cited claims in different periods and times.” It is nice to see the Zeitgeist gang finally catching up to Christian scholars on an issue. We have been pointing out Was the account of Noah's flood plagiarized?the world-wide phenomenon of flood stories for decades now, trying to make people realize that the flood actually happened! Now Zeitgeist comes along and tries to use this fact against us? These guys are so eager to find parallels that they haven’t stopped to think: sometimes parallels may actually work in support of the Bible, not against it. After all, if there really was a world-wide flood thousands of years ago, finding multiple traditions of the same story all over the world is exactly what we should expect. This is what we do find. Almost all these flood traditions record a universal flood in which only a tiny remnant of the population is saved. Some add the building of an ark and saving of the animals. Some recall the ark landing on a mountain; some the sending out of birds, etc. It only stands to reason that a few older legends, especially ones that remained geographically close to and close in language, might just have a similar tradition to that of the Bible. (Zeitgeist The Movie Exposed: Is Jesus an Astrological Myth?, p. 61-62)." 


(1) Arguments offered to "prove" a Christian dependence on the mysteries illustrate the logical fallacy of false cause. This fallacy is committed whenever someone reasons that just because two things exist side by side, one of them must have caused the other. As we all should know, mere coincidence does not prove causal connection. Nor does similarity prove dependence.

(2) Many alleged similarities between Christianity and the mysteries are either greatly exaggerated or fabricated. Scholars often describe pagan rituals in language they borrow from Christianity. The careless use of language could lead one to speak of a "Last Supper" in Mithraism or a "baptism" in the cult of Isis. It is inexcusable nonsense to take the word "savior" with all of its New Testament connotations and apply it to Osiris or Attis as though they were savior-gods in any similar sense.

(3) The chronology is all wrong. Almost all of our sources of information about the pagan religions alleged to have influenced early Christianity are dated very late. We frequently find writers quoting from documents written 300 years later than Paul in efforts to produce ideas that allegedly influenced Paul. We must reject the assumption that just because a cult had a certain belief or practice in the third or fourth century after Christ, it therefore had the same belief or practice in the first century.

(4) Paul would never have consciously borrowed from the pagan religions. All of our information about him makes it highly unlikely that he was in any sense influenced by pagan sources. He placed great emphasis on his early training in a strict form of Judaism (Phil. 3:5). He warned the Colossians against the very sort of influence that advocates of Christian syncretism have attributed to him, namely, letting their minds be captured by alien speculations (Col. 2:8).

(5) Early Christianity was an exclusivistic faith. As J. Machen explains, the mystery cults were nonexclusive. "A man could become initiated into the mysteries of Isis or Mithras without at all giving up his former beliefs; but if he were to be received into the Church, according to the preaching of Paul, he must forsake all other Saviors for the Lord Jesus Christ....Amid the prevailing syncretism of the Greco-Roman world, the religion of Paul, with the religion of Israel, stands absolutely alone." This Christian exclusivism should be a starting point for all reflection about the possible relations between Christianity and its pagan competitors. Any hint of syncretism in the New Testament would have caused immediate controversy.

(6) Unlike the mysteries, the religion of Paul was grounded on events that actually happened in history. The mysticism of the mystery cults was essentially nonhistorical. Their myths were dramas, or pictures, of what the initiate went through, not real historical events, as Paul regarded Christ's death and resurrection to be. The Christian affirmation that the death and resurrection of Christ happened to a historical person at a particular time and place has absolutely no parallel in any pagan mystery religion.

(7) What few parallels may still remain may reflect a Christian influence on the pagan systems. As Bruce Metzger has argued, "It must not be uncritically assumed that the Mysteries always influenced Christianity, for it is not only possible but probable that in certain cases, the influence moved in the opposite direction."[22] It should not be surprising that leaders of cults that were being successfully challenged by Christianity should do something to counter the challenge. What better way to do this than by offering a pagan substitute? Pagan attempts to counter the growing influence of Christianity by imitating it are clearly apparent in measures instituted by Julian the Apostate, who was the Roman emperor from A.D. 361 to 363. (Excerpted from his article "Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions" that first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Winter, 1994).


Dr. Ronald Nash says, "It is not until we come to the third century A.D. that we find sufficient source material (i.e., information about the mystery religions from the writings of the time) to permit a relatively complete reconstruction of their content. Far too many writers use this late source material (after A.D. 200) to form reconstructions of the third-century mystery experience and then uncritically reason back to what they think must have been the earlier nature of the cults. This practice is exceptionally bad scholarship and should not be allowed to stand without challenge. Information about a cult that comes several hundred years after the close of the New Testament canon must not be read back into what is presumed to be the status of the cult during the first century A.D. The crucial question is not what possible influence the mysteries may have had on segments of Christendom after A.D. 400, but what effect the emerging mysteries may have had on the New Testament in the first century." (Article "Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions")

Dr. Ronald Nash says, "Many Christian college students have encountered criticisms of Christianity based on claims that early Christianity and the New Testament borrowed important beliefs and practices from a number of pagan mystery religions. Since these claims undermine such central Christian doctrines as Christ's death and resurrection, the charges are serious. But the evidence for such claims, when it even exists, often lies in sources several centuries older than the New Testament. Moreover, the alleged parallels often result from liberal scholars uncritically describing pagan beliefs and practices in Christian language and then marveling at the striking parallels they think they've discovered." (Article "Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions")


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