We mythicists and comparative religion/mythology scholars and students often hear apologies attempting to refute comparisons between the Egyptian religion, Mithraism and Christianity. These rebuttals include that Egypt had nothing to do with the creation of Christianity and that Mithra’s birth was not celebrated on December 25th or the winter solstice, as many have claimed. Both of these contentions are easily disproved, but for those of us who have been around a while and have been studying the subject for many years, the fact that these falsehoods have any traction is surprising.
In this regard, I recall watching a PBS series in the late 1990s called “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians,” in which both these subjects were discussed. This scholarship was part of my research, and I did not forget it. The series included respected scholars in relevant fields, including theologians and New Testament experts. Ostensibly, PBS produces such series so that we may learn from them, which I did. Because these issues cast doubt on the claim that Christianity is a unique, “divine revelation,” however, those who have not studied the subject appear to be repeating falsehoods in its defense.
In any event, as we can see from the image below, which is part of a transcript of the PBS program, from that organizations’s own website, the Egyptian religion was widespread and highly important and influential at the time when Christianity was formulated. To refute such a notion of Egyptian influence on Christianity seems to be quite irrational and disingenuous, as my one book alone Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection – providing nearly 600 pages of evidence, including numerous primary sources – handily debunks this fallacious claim.
The PBS transcript also shows the narrator stating quite clearly that ancient Mithra worshippers celebrated their god’s birthday on December 25th, a contention demonstrated by the fact that Mithra was syncretized with and called “Sol Invictus,” the Roman solar deity whose birthday on December 25th is recorded in the Calendar of Philocalus (354 AD/CE).
HOLLAND L. HENDRIX, President, Union Theological Seminary: One would have found in the major cities of the Mediterranean basin a cult of the Egyptian gods. Egyptian cults would have included probably Isis as the ascendant deity. Isis was perceived by her devotees as being remarkably attentive. Isis would respond to you when you were in trouble. She would answer your prayers. She had that reputation. One of the most important representations of Isis is what we call the “Isis lactans.” That’s Isis suckling her offspring at her breast. This is the kind of iconography that appears to have been terribly determinative in the early iconography of Mary and Jesus.
NARRATOR: Worshipers of the age old Persian god, Mithras, gathered in secret chapels throughout the empire. They would eat sacred meals together and celebrate their god’s birthday on December 25th.
HOLLAND L. HENDRIX: The Egyptian cult and Mithraism were two of the great religious movements of the time and certainly would have been posed some of the most difficult competition for Christianity.
It is egregious both to deny these influences and motifs as well as to fault those of us who actually have studied the subject from respected authorities and recalled those lessons.
Note also from the above quotes that the Egyptian goddess Isis especially was considered to be a deity who would appear to her followers, in visible or audible manifestations much like those claimed by Christian devotees to “prove” the existence of Jesus Christ as a supernatural entity. If Jesus is “real” because of such supernatural and mystical experiences, then Isis too would be “real” based on the experiences of her many hundreds of thousands of sincere devotees who propitiated the goddess faithfully, from Egypt to the British Isles.
From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians – Part II
Chronography of 354
Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection
Mithra Born of a Virgin on December 25th
Anahita, virgin mother of Mithra
Early Church Fathers on Mithraism: The Devil Got There First
Jesus and Mithra (forum)
When Was the First Christmas?
— Religion and History (@AcharyaS) December 30, 2013