At the beginning of my post entitled “Polygamy, incest and gang rape in the Bible?”, I mentioned that the post originated from dialogue I had via e-mail with an agnostic friend. In this post I’ll cover another issue that we discussed. My friend also asked:
“There are an awful lot of stories about ‘saviors’ before the time of Christ that have VERY similar parallels. How do we know the one that came after (Jesus) all these others is the ‘right’ one?”
She also gave me a link to a list of these others saviors, which included: Buddha, Krishna, Odysseus, Romulus, Dionysus, Heracles, Glycon, Zoroaster/Zarathustra, Attis of Phrygia, and Horus.
To answer, I must take us back to Genesis. In Genesis 3, we read about the “fall of man” – Satan tempted Adam and Eve and humankind fell into sin. Judgment was pronounced on Satan. Genesis 3:15 is often called the “protoevangelium” as it is considered the first announcement (hint) of the Gospel. It states that the seed of the woman would one day crush Satan, giving us a hint that a Savior would come forth to bring redemption and deal with the sin that had entered the world.
I think this hope was planted in the psyche of Adam and Eve and eventually became a part of the culture at large. And I think this is one reason we observe other “savior figures” before Christ. When a hope is there, some might hope a certain woman and her child could be this hope and a false story could be created that gains mythological proportions. More significantly, I think fear was struck in the heart of Satan and Satan may have influenced these other savior stories to develop in order to bring confusion and uncertainty about the true and real Savior.
For me, all these other savior stories point to an underlying truth behind it all and point us to the true Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Also, despite some similarities, these other saviors are not nearly as unique as Jesus Christ. (See updated link below, which shows that so-called parallels between Christ and other saviors are exaggerated or outright inaccurate.)
In addition, Christ is historically rooted in a real place and time in history. While there are some obscure scholars who might argue Jesus Christ never existed, the vast majority of scholars (whether conservative or liberal) believe that the person of Jesus Christ existed. The question is not “did he exist?” but “who was he?”. This is in distinct contrast to many of the other saviors on the list who are nothing more than myth or legend with no grounding in reality or history.
Since this dialogue with my friend, I came across an essay by CS Lewis entitled “Myth Became Fact” in which he took some of the objections against Christianity and turned them into supporting evidence. Since this relates to our current topic, here is an excerpt:
The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from Balder to Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified…under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle….God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “pagan Christs”: they ought to be there – it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.
I know that the explanation in this post is not the only way to see this issue. Others see similarities to demonstrate that there is nothing unique about Christianity at all, and that all religion is just a big similar jumble of beliefs indicating that there is either no God (atheism) or that all religions lead to God (universalism). Yet, for myself the explanations shared in this post make sense and other savior stories can point to the underlying truth behind it all – that of the true Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
**Update: Please see this informative article written by one of my readers: Was Jesus a copy of pagan Gods? If the issue in my post concerns you at all, this article provides much more research, and shows that so-called parallels between Christ and other saviors are exaggerated or outright inaccurate. Worth the read!
Here is a brief post pointing out the differences (rather than similarities) between the conception of Horus and Jesus Christ: Was Horus born of a Virgin?
**Another related post here: Christianity and Pagan Mythology.