Pagan Christs Before Jesus

by Joesph McCabe, Internet Infidels– “a drop of reason in a pool of confusion”

Re-posted here by AlBratt, 12-17-11

“Christianity Is Paganism Re-written” – Historian Joseph Wheless

“[Almost] the entire civilized world of more than two thousand years ago ‘had its Christmas before Christ.’ ‘The figure of Christ,’ says Kalthoff, ‘is drawn in all its chief features before a line of the Gospels was written.’ At least the figure of Jesus in what is deemed its most captivating form was drawn in every feature long before it was presented in the Gospels. The first symbol of the Christian religion, the manger or basket-cradle of the divine child, the supposed unique exhortation to humility, was one of the most familiar religious emblems of the pagan world. Had it been exhibited to a crowd in one of the cosmopolitan cities of the Empire, it would have been strange or new to very few. One might pronounce it Horus, another Mithra, another Hermes, another Dionysos; but all would have shrugged their shoulders nonchalantly at the news that it was just another divine child in the great family of gods. The world flowed on. [Only] the names were changed.”

Christ And Krishna

“We may now pause to consider the moral, the suggestion, of this rich mythology of the old Jewish and pagan world. Had I the leisure and space of Sir J.G. Frazer, I might expand and arrange this material in a series of volumes which would show the human imagination developing the mythical forms of its religious ideas and passing gradually from prehistoric poetry to the dogmatic creed of the new religion. Here I must be content to summarize the facts and briefly indicate what seem to be the reasonable conclusions from them.”

“And the first consideration which, on a reasonable view, must occur to any impartial person is that, if the birth of an incarnate god had been annually celebrated for ages in the ancient world, and was celebrated particularly in the region where Christianity developed, it is not in the least likely that such a birth at last took place as an historical event. Setting aside religious sentiment, taking a purely human or historical view of the matter, there is a very strong presumption that the early Christians attributed to their savior the kind of birth that was ascribed to the deities of rival religions.”

“This presumption becomes a practical certainty when we recall how slowly the belief grew up in the Christian body, and how late it was. Paul knows nothing of it. Mark, which on many grounds we know to be the oldest Gospel, knows nothing of it. Matthew in his original form knows nothing of it. Luke, the latest, has a long story about it. We reach something like the third decade of the second century before the story appears; though it must unquestionably have circulated in the Churches for some time before Luke could write it.”

“The real difficulty, which is often not appreciated by Rationalists, is to understand the frame of mind of men and women who, while regarding pagan religions as inventions of the devil, could borrow any mythical material from them. Clerics would do better to use that argument, rather than ask people to believe the virgin birth because it is in Luke, when there is not a shred of evidence that it was in Luke before at least the end of the first century.”

“But we must not exaggerate this difficulty. Rome, when it forced Christianity upon Europe, deliberately adopted a very large amount of paganism. Bits of ritual, altars, statues, hymns, local deities, etc., were taken into the new religion. Does even the orthodox suppose that Jesus ordered the use of candles, incense, holy water, and vestments? Yet these things were fully adopted by the new religion.”

“The truth is that we have very little historical knowledge of the Christians of the first century. Between the simple groups of Jesus-worshipers of Paul’s Epistles and Acts, and the developed Christian doctrine of the second century, lies a whole world of evolution on which we have no positive light. The reasonable view, for this part of the life of Jesus, seems to be that the influence of the Old Testament, the shape given by the Jews to the supposed messianic prophecies, the natural impulse of ascetic believers to isolate Jesus from all sexual intercourse, and the broad beliefs of the Persians, Egyptians, and Greeks about the birth of their saviors,’ cooperated in that obscure and loosely organized world to give shape to the traditional figure of Jesus”.

“At all events, Asiatic religion had its Christs as well as the religions of nearer Asia and of Europe. The Shin Ho (Holy Mother) of the Chinese and Japanese is commonly represented with a divine son. Even Kong-fu-tse, who escaped the common fate of reformers — deification — was credited with supernatural portents at birth. It is a natural urge of the devout mind to invest its hero with superhuman experiences.”

“It is, however, in India chiefly that we find parallels. Buddha’s teaching, as settled by modern scholars, was so decidedly non-religious that one would not expect him ever to be adorned with a supernatural halo. He not only plainly disavowed all the gods of India, but he bade his disciples waste no time in disputing about God and personal immortality. He was an Agnostic, a humanitarian. Yet, pure Buddhism almost perished from the earth. What is generally called Buddhism in Asia has no more relation to Buddha’s teaching than Roman Catholicism has to the teaching of Jesus. It is a system of temples and statues, priests and monks, rosaries and censers, rites and vestments, heavens and bells.”

“In that atmosphere the figure of Buddha himself was bound to be degraded to the divine level: I say ‘degraded,’ because what would seem admirable and superior in Buddha and Jesus if they were men, becomes petty and trivial when one measures them by a divine standard. Here I am concerned only with the birth-stories. Christian apologists deny that there is any parallel with Jesus on the narrow ground that Buddha’s mother, Maya, was married. The real parallel is that the later Buddhists would not have their deity born of carnal intercourse, and he was therefore said to be the outcome of a miraculous conception. Whether in such case we ought or ought not to call his mother a virgin is a matter of words. But Mr. Robertson shows from St. Jerome that the Buddhists themselves did call Maya’‘a virgin’ — they believed in a ‘virgin birth’ — and he rightly rejects the statement of Professor Rhys Davids that these Buddhists understood the birth of Buddha quite differently from the Christians because ‘before his descent into his mother’s womb he was a deva.’ That is exactly what Christians say of Jesus.”

“In the very popular Hindu deity Krishna, however, we have, in many respects, a closer parallel to Christ. It is so close in some details that earlier scholars were tempted to think that these were derived from an early Christian mission to India. Modern scholars reject the idea, and they wonder only if some parts of the Christ and the Krishna legend did not come from a common source: a source which some find in the legends about the Persian King Cyrus given by the Greek historian Herodotus.”

“The Hindu branch of the Hindu and Persian race, the eastern part of the Aryan race, lost in the luxuriant plains of India the severity of the older religion, and richly developed its phallic and sensual elements. In that world Buddhism failed, and the cult of Krishna gained in popularity until it appealed more than any other of the numerous religions of India. We have clear proof that the religion flourished in India two or three centuries before Christ; but whether there is any historical personage at the root of it, as in the case of Buddhism, we cannot say.”

“The orthodox legend of Krishna is that he was born of a married woman, Devaki; but like Maya, Buddha’s mother, she was considered to have had a miraculous conception. We come nearer to the story of Jesus when we read that King Kansa was warned in a vision that the son of Devaki would destroy him, and take his place, and the child had at once to be taken away out of reach of the monarch. The king had Devaki’s earlier children put to death (“murder of the innocents”), and Krishna had to be saved, as King Cyrus was saved from the King of the Medes and Moses from the King of Egypt. Krishna, moreover, gave signs of his real divine origin soon after his birth and in his boyhood. In the end Krishna — who is most unchristlike in his amorous adventures among the milkmaids, which endear him to the unascetic Hindu — killed King Kansa, took his place, and wrought marvelous things for his people.”

“Thus one of the familiar religious emblems of India was the statue of the virgin mother (as the Hindus repute her) Devaki and her divine son Krishna, an incarnation of the great god Vishnu. Christian writers have held that this model was borrowed from Christianity, but, as Mr. Robertson observes, the Hindus had far earlier been in communication with Egypt and were more likely to borrow the model of Isis and Horus. One does not see why they should borrow any model, In nearly all religions with a divine mother and son a very popular image was that of the divine infant at his mother’s breast or in her arms.”

“Two more different conceptions of an incarnate deity than those of Christ and Krishna it would be difficult to imagine. Krishna is, in a sense, a patron, a model, of amorous adventure and, in his manhood, a great warrior. Jesus is the prophet of sin, the denouncer of love, the archetype of the pacifist. Yet worshipers far away on the plains of India came to conceive the appearance on earth of their deity much as the Christians of the first century conceived theirs. Neither borrowed from the other. Was there a common source in some of the older mythic material I have described, or shall we see here only a parallel evolution of the religious imagination playing about the birth of a god? Perhaps both; but the answer does not concern me here. The Jesus-ideal is so far from unique that it is, on the contrary, one version of a legend which stretches over three thousand years of time and is found equally in Egypt and Syria, Greece and Rome. The stream of religious evolution flowed on.”

 Read the complete series of articles here…