Are the Gospels purely historical accounts, or were elements borrowed from pre-Christian myths and rituals? Those who have studied both ancient mythology and the Bible often come away with the impression that certain scenes in the Gospel narrative were purposeful literary imitations of older myths.

Dennis MacDonald, professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Claremont School of Theology, relates a striking example of one such lift by demonstrating how disciples James and John had been based, at least in part, on the Gemini Twins.

The Twins, Castor and Pollux, had a mortal father named Tyndareus, while also going by the collective epithet Dioscuri — sons of Zeus, “the Thunderer.” Famed as Argonauts about whom bright-eyed muses would sing, Jove’s boys also were known to call fire down from the sky — referring to their father’s lightning bolts — and had been known in Greek myth to have destroyed entire villages with that power.

Ancient coins and gems often depict them positioned on either side of enthroned deities, such as Zeus, Serapis, Mars and Mithras.

Compare these facts with the story of James and John in the Gospels. They are sons of the mortal Zebedee, yet in Mark 3:17, Jesus gives them the collective label Boanerges-“Sons of Thunder.”

In Mark 10:35-40, we find James and John — who always are together and even seem to speak in unison — requesting to sit on the right and left of their Lord in his glory, the heavenly throne.

But the smoking gun is Luke 9:54. When Jesus is refused entry into a Samaritan village, the brothers ask, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?” Jesus rebukes them for their quick tempers, but it’s assumed they have this power.

Really? These two backwater fishermen could order destruction from the sky? No wonder Jesus wanted them on his team.

A possible model for another Gospel scene was the ancient Jewish Day of Atonement. The book of Leviticus describes the scapegoat ritual performed during the annual Yom Kippur observance. The high priest of the temple would order two identical goats brought to the altar, where he would kill one in blood sacrifice while the other was released into the wilderness to carry away the people’s sins.

Recall the pre-crucifixion scene in Mark. In what was not at all traditional, Pilate asks the mob to choose who they would have him set free, the murderer Barabbas or Jesus? The crowd chooses to release Barabbas, a name meaning “son of the father.” Interestingly, in ancient Syriac manuscripts he was Jesus Barabbas.

So here we have Jesus, son of the father, released into the wilderness bearing the sins of Israel, while Jesus, Son of God the Father, is sacrificed to atone for those sins. Historian Richard Carrier thinks Mark’s allegorical setup clearly duplicates this two goat tradition.

Finally, since before Christian times, the death and resurrection of Romulus was celebrated in an annual public ceremony in Rome. According to legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of the god Mars, and the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia. Rome’s king and namesake, Romulus, was killed by the first Roman senate. His corpse vanished from the tomb, and he subsequently appeared to his loyal follower Proculus (Latin for “to proclaim”) on the road from Alba Longa to Rome. The demigod orders him to announce a message to his fellow Romans — if they are virtuous, they will conquer the world.

Likewise in Luke, after Jesus is killed and his corpse vanishes, he appears to Cleopas (Greek for “to tell all”) on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus, too, orders his follower to proclaim his words.

Let’s look at the parallels: Both Romulus and Jesus are born of virgins and are hailed as “God,” “Son of God” and “King.” Both incarnated to establish kingdoms and are killed by a conspiracy of ruling powers. Both of their deaths were accompanied by a supernatural darkness, and both corpses later vanish. Both appear around the break of dawn to close followers whose names literally mean “to proclaim,” traveling from east to west on roads of roughly equal length. Romulus’ ethereal body gleams, befitting his glorious message of empire. Jesus materializes in humble disguise, befitting his message of humility — that the virtuous will join the spiritual kingdom.

The similarities here are too numerous to be accidental. The scenes appear to be parallel myths, the latter intentionally lifted from the former.

These were only a few examples of many that clearly demonstrate Mark and others drew from earlier source material for their versions of the Gospel tale. Though such imitation was not an uncommon practice in ancient story writing, it casts doubt on the assertion that the New Testament narratives are “gospel truth.”

Ed Neumann is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society.

(54) comments

jennyp

You have this wrong. There is no Greek myth in which Castor & Pollux "destroy entire villages" with fire from heaven. You're thinking of the actual New Testament account, from Luke 9:54, where they threaten to destroy a Samaritan town/village.

jennyp

You wrote, "Castor and Pollux ... were known to call fire down from the sky — referring to their father’s lightning bolts — and had been known in Greek myth to have destroyed entire villages with that power."

Do you have a reference or source for that please? I know that in legend they were said to have helped Jason and Peleus to destroy the city of Iolcus in revenge for the treachery of its king Pelias, but I cannot find a reference to them "calling fire down from the sky" (unless you mean the appearance of St. Elmo's fire in the story of the Argonauts), and neither can I find a reference to them "destroying entire villages with that power."

Thank you.

Stormrider

Dear Mr Neumann, I believe I have a message for you. I have never heard of this magazine or your name, but in my dream overnite, I was asked to look for "End time publication by La crosse". I saw your november writeup about "not the end..." and now your latest writing about scriptures mimicking past histories and myths. Firstly, there is nothing new under the sun, what is happening now, probably happened before. What is important is the significance of the situation. Blood has always been used for cleansing of sins as far back as history can tell us. The God you may not acknowledge, for a time, demanded and was given animal blood as sacrifice for sins and at the appointed time, substituted this type of blood for that of His son, Jesus Christ. On the end times, Jesus Christ said it CLEARLY, that no man, not even himself knows the time and date, God has set aside for end of times> You mis-read the quote from jesus about the generation will not pass until the end of age will come.

MotherNature99

What matters is your heart and soul!! Take not lightly.
We all fight within ourselves to understand thy good & evil inside us all. We are all here to learn thy gift(good) inside us all. We see evil with our soul and pay for it with our hearts to understand thy gift inside us all.
Its our faith, believe, our religion that is to question here. Its our human side we question!?! Our brain's, our eye's our impulsiveness, our greed!?!
Every human can/could help every other human on this planet. We all owe a death/Life to our creator. We all must learn from our life how to help, friendship and love live wealthy life's.
It's our time and a short one at that.

MotherNature99

Its our faith, believe our religion that is not to question here.

JerryMc

For me, what stands out are the differences between the Gospel accounts and the similar stories Neumann refers to. The Gemini twins called down lightning and thunder to destroy cities. James and John asked if they ought to do the same, referring back to the "eye for an eye" vengeance of Elias's time. Unfortunately, that tendency still remains. But the beauty of the Gospel story is in Jesus' response, essentially, "No, that wouldn't be acting according to your true/best nature. My message is all about the power of love to overcome the ills and evils in human experience." That's what is behind the power of the Gospels to inspire better lives in those who read them. Not much to argue with there.

Dagda

Bill Payer, Jesus was not born of a virgin. God cuckolded Joseph. Your God coveted another man's wife. Why did He do that? Surely there were other, unbetrothed women. It's the most inane premise for a story, EVER.

Redwall

Nor can the atheists prove religion false.

The atheist has blind faith the creator doesn't exist; that is as much a religion as any.

At least the agnostic is honest. The atheist has only a diseased heart.

Monteee
Monteee

>>>The atheist has only a diseased heart.<<

LOL....what were you saying about mockeries??

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

Redwall- you need to brush up on your definitions. Most agnostics are also atheists. Atheists don't have to prove religion false. The burden of proof is on the individual making the claim- in this case, the theist. Rejecting unsupported claims is what any rational person should do.

Redwall

Maybe that's why they call it 'faith'.

MIdwest Mom

Now, as they say, for the rest of the story. Let's look at what Luke 9:54-56 says, in full. Perceiving insult from "a village of the Samaritans ... [who] ... did not receive them" the scripture reads as follows: "And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village." So the intensely loyal "Sons of Thunder" were referring to the faith of the Old Testament prophet Elias (a.k.a. Elijah) who battled the pagan prophets of Baal, when Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his burnt offering. While I support my atheist brothers and sisters to exercise their right of conscience, I encourage them to do so in an effort to inform, not deform the discussion.

neandros

So James and John wanted to kill people like Elijah did, but dang, Jesus wouldn't let them. "Sons of Thunder" still sounds more like Castor & Pollux to me.

MIdwest Mom

Actually, many believers DO read their scriptures on a regular basis. Those of us who do have learned that what some people see as contradictions are different ways of ministering to the wide variety of God's children. For example "faith, if it hath not works, is dead" (John2:17) speaks to those who feel that they can charge their sins to the Savior of mankind without changing themselves in the process. While "for by grace are ye saved through faith ... not of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9) challenges the proud to consider their need to rely on God. Both are true, yet those truths minister to the varying needs of God's children. Similarly, Mr. Neumann's argument relies on perceived connections, without telling the whole story. His citation of the specific scripture is reminiscent of those e-mail forwards that have been "checked out by Snopes," which, although true, turn out to be labeled as "false." (continued)

Uncommon Sense

Next time you're looking at a piece of primary literature thank an archeologist, an anthropologist, and a linguist...unless you traveled half the world, befriended the locals, dug up your holy grail, and translated it into English yourself.

Jefferson Paine
Jefferson Paine

The first MONOTHEIST known in History was the Pharaoh Akhenaten. When he died all of his followers were kicked out of Egypt as the Pharaonic Egyptians returned to worshiping numerous gods again. These exiled Egyptian followers of the new monotheism were the Jews we know today and they carried the myths and legends the Egyptian and Sumerian cultures relied upon.....

sam maelstrom

Though this theory sounds logical, there has not been enough evidence shown to believe a mass exodus from Egypt ever took place. And the existence of Moses, too, is doubtful.

Seriously Now
Seriously Now

People who think the Bible is a literal account AND those who think it is all 100% made up are equally wrong.

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

It would be hard to find someone who believes the bible to be 100% wrong. Clearly, it does have some historical infomation that has been verified by outside sources.

Redwall

What's with these freethinkers that they're always picking on the New Testament. If they were more than mere cowards they would take on Judaism or Islam.

FUBAR

I think ALL religion is a mythical joke....so there you go.

Seriously Now
Seriously Now

It's easy to make that claim if you are too lazy to really think about it.

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

Seriously Now- Studies have shown that the average atheist knows far more about most religion than the average religious person does. I have thought about religious claims far more than the average person, so I have been far from lazy in this pursuit. And currently, I agree with Fubar- all religions are myths, any claims to the contrary are simply unsupported by the evidence. Thus the need for faith...

Jefferson Paine
Jefferson Paine

Agreed.......

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

I get Islam, but is Judaism dangerous to criticize? Anyway, we live in a country where those currently trying to legislate religious beliefs are Christians. Plus, we are more familiar with Christianity, so it's easier as well as more relevant.

Redwall

It must be nice to live such a sheltered life as you have. Be sure you stick to the "more familiar"...don't stray too far.

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

Not an issue of being sheltered, it's an issue about allocation of resources and time. I also don't spend a lot of time battling Buddhists and Hindus, because they also are not a problem here in the states. Other international groups do take those groups on. American Atheists has taken on Islam and Jews. In our region, doing so would not be terribly relevant to the La Crosse area reader.

Jefferson Paine
Jefferson Paine

All 3 "revealed" religions are a joke.....a joke to me, a joke to logical thinkers across the world and a joke to most of our prominent Founders.

The idea that 'god' would give his important messages to ONE person....reveal his message.....and expect that one person to spread this word to the entire world is the stupidest #### to come down the pike.....ever.

Nature is our god and she speaks to all of us all the time.....

Redwall

To each his own. Good luck to you.

Monteee
Monteee

Jews and Muslims are not the ones trying to replace our secular laws with theocracy. It is evangelical CHRISTIANS who are trying to force their religious beliefs onto everyone else by manipulating and controlling our local, state, and federal governments.

Good Christians, non-Christians and the non-religious are merely defending themselves and their country from theocracy and evangelical tyranny.

Redwall

Mocking someone's religion is not in the due course of "defending themselves."

Monteee
Monteee

I agree, but mocking people for their beliefs or lack of beliefs is another issue. If everyone stopped the mockeries, then that would be great.

It still doesn't change the fact that evangelical Christians are trying to take over our government and therefore the entire country. It's our duty to stand up to them or any other tyrannical group.

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

Ridiculous beliefs, by definition, are deserving of ridicule.

Uncommon Sense

Thanks for the book report comparing Jesus to other mythical characters. What's next? Jesus similarities with Huck Finn or Captain Ahab. I love historical analysis: grab two old stories and compare them then tell us why (in your opinion) it's historically significant. Why not actually include archeological evidence--you know REAL evidence to back up your conclusions.

neandros

Okay, Uncommon Nonsense, moron swim is over. Time to get out of the gene pool. This is apparently a difficult concept for you to get, but there's a thing called literary evidence. When one story contains all the very particular details (ie vanishing from tomb, supernatural darkness, visitation to a guy named "proclaim," etc.) of an earlier fictional tale, what's the probability the later story really happened? Vanishingly low, effectively zero. You'd have to be intellectually blind to not see that. But you think digging up bones is the only way to find real evidence? You obviously wouldn't know real evidence if it were handed to you on a skewer.

elocs

"REAL evidence"? You're kidding, right? Because those who swallow the religious god/Jesus thing are not big on evidence that supports their conclusions. In fact they just want you to have faith and believe in what they are saying. After all, what mortal dares to question the supposed word of god?

However, when there is evidence that refutes religious beliefs, then those who hold the beliefs simply dismiss and refuse to believe evidence that does not support their claims. Or they just jump through hoops to explain it away--they are quite the contortionists.

So when it comes to REAL evidence concerning religious beliefs and assertions, pony up and prove it. Real evidence, not just faith and belief. Jesus was born of a virgin birth: prove it. There is a god: prove it. There is a heaven and hell: prove it. You know, real, tangible evidence, the kind that believers demand of scientific claims and then dismiss it when they get it.

Monteee
Monteee

What's next will be comparisons of the Jesus story to the stories of Horus, Mithras, and other mythical and semi-mythical figures from ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures.

Mentioning Huck Finn and Captain Ahab is childish. It also shows lack of understanding of ancient historiography and literary analysis.

If the Jesus story is conclusively proven to be an adaptation of older myths and folklore, then it will be done via researching the written and linguistic evidence. Achaeological evidence (material objects) may also be used, but written documents (the myths and folklore) will be the primary source.

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

It would be nice to have archaeological evidence of Jesus, except there is none. There was not a single person who wrote about Jesus during his lifetime. All writings come decades or more later. Strange, huh?

Monteee
Monteee

Let's be fair here. We have not yet discovered any accounts of Jesus that were written during his lifetime. They may have existed and were then lost or destroyed. They may not have existed at all. Or, they do exist and may be discovered in the future.

Perhaps, someday, a cave will be excavated and ancient mauscripts will be discovered....and the question of Jesus' existence will finally be answered. If that happens, I believe that the manuscripts will tell of a very human life and death of the man. No resurrection, no magic, no miracles.

MidwestAtheist
MidwestAtheist

If, if, maybe, if. And maybe we'll dig up a UFO some day with blueprints for the pyramids. The time to believe something is when the evidence is sufficient to justify the claim. Not a moment before that.

Redwall

What were you expecting, a digital photo of Jesus, a text message or twitter feed? Obviously if Jesus didn't have a Facebook page he didn't exist.

What a bunch of saps these Freethinkers are. They don't even recognize their own religion and blind faith for what it is.

Monteee
Monteee

How about a manuscript written and signed by Jesus himself? How about testimonial documents written DURING Jesus' lifetime? How about written accounts of Jesus' entire life (and not just itty bitty pieces of his life)? How about a TOMB? With human remains in it? How about some pieces of the cross or crown of thorns, which exhibit supernatural powers?

Nevermind all that, though. Just continue the childish twitter remarks......LOL

Buggs Raplin

I'd say the Nag Hammadi gospels were written while Jesus was alive.

sam maelstrom

Then you would be wrong. There were some 40 gospels, the Nag Hammadi find comprising the majority. The gospel of Thomas is one of the earliest -- dated to about the year 80. Most are 2nd century writings. Even Matthew, Luke, and John are most likely 2nd century writings who all used Mark's allegorical tale as a template. And the date of Mark's gospel is at earliest 70 CE, based on the idea that he must've been a witness to Jesus -- which, as we have seen, is in doubt.

Bill Payer

What? Has this guy even read the story of Romulus and Remus?
a. They were born from a virgin who was sedcuced (or raped, depending on your view). The story of Jesus was a true virginal birth.
b. They were twins. Jesus had siblings but not a twin.
c. They were taken from their mother shortly after birth.
d. Romulus murdered Remus. Jesus didn't murder anyone.
e. Romulus mysteriously disappeared. Jesus was publicly executed.
f. Romulus became a god. Jesus always was God.
There's more but there's only so much space here to type..

Monteee
Monteee

Bill, you missed the point of Neumann's article, which is that the authors of the gospels borrowed and adapted older myths in order to form their own stories about Jesus of Nazareth. Pay attention to the word ADAPTED. It is common practice for a story-teller to change and/or edit parts of an old story when making a new story.

"...depending on your view".............indeed. It's all about one's point of view, isn't it? Some people take the gospels as absolute truth, while others see them as myths and folktales. The trouble with calling the gospels absolute truth is that there is no factual evidence to support that point of view.

Bill Payer

Yet the author offered no proof whatsoever of a causal connection between ancient myths and the gospel accounts. And neither do you. You can have a view, but try to support it with more than partial facts.

Monteee
Monteee

There is no conclusive proof that the gospels were adaptations of more ancient myths and folktales. It is impossible to prove anything about a handful of ancient, anonymously-written stories about Jesus of Nazareth - not without real physical evidence. We can't state with any certainty that he even existed.

Until real physical proof is discovered, the veracity of the gospels will always be doubted, scrutinized and criticized. 2,000 years of retelling and reinterpretating the same stories doesn't make the gospels any more true or false. You either believe it or you don't. If you do believe it, just be honest and admit that your belief is based on emotions, and not on any real proof.

sam maelstrom

I know the Trib editors name these columns, but a more apt name would have been, "bible scenes were ripped off from prior pagan myths." Anyway, it looks like even the Jesus character himself was borrowed from Romulus, among others. Holy mythmaking, Batman!

FUBAR

Even "Christmas" was stolen from Pagen lore.

Seriously Now
Seriously Now

When a bed store has a mattress sale on Presidents' Day, has it "stolen" the holiday? Early Christians designated their celebrations on existing pagan celebration dates to adapt and usurp them.

FUBAR

WTF...you use to come up with something clever....now you sound like an idiot.

Dayeiter

Good job! Most Christian have never read the bible completely, they rely on what the minister or priest tells them about it, however, and that is based upon how they interpet the chapters.

Napoleon
Napoleon

So, we can conclude that Christian mythology (the Bible) is a copycat mythology. Who knew? Just about everybody.

This could start a dangerous trend: if Mythology A begat Mythology B, could Mythology C be far behind? Judaic mythology begat Christian mythology begat Muslim mythology, yeah, that's all old hat. But now, lots of 'New Age' mythologies based on the old Christian mythology keep popping up all the time. Chaos will ensue as the Great Mythologies (such as Christianity) sue the New Age religions over patent rights. If you thought that the Microsoft versus Apple patent wars were bad, wait until Pope versus L. Ron Hubbard hits the courts!

"No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means."
– George Bernard Shaw

"I am an atheist... I don't understand religion at all. I'm sure I'll offend a lot of people by saying this, but I think it's all nonsense." - Andy Rooney

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