April 1, 2013

Problems With Jesus: Lack of Originality

English: Rising Mitra
English: Rising Mitra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In addition to the low likelihood of a god like the one described in the Christian bible making any sort of sacrifice for humanity, one of the things that has bothered me about the Jesus story ever since I first read some of the pre-Jesus mythology is how unoriginal the story was. Once one has familiarized oneself with Horus, Mithras, Dionysus, and several other predecessors, it strikes me as quite a stretch to confidently regard them as myths while simultaneously accepting the Jesus narrative as fact. There are far too many similarities to avoid the conclusion that the Jesus story was based, at least in part, on prior tales. And if that was not damning enough, it seems that similar myths (which some refer to as prophecies) were widespread throughout the ancient world. Thus, the authors of the Christian bible were almost certainly familiar with them.

Of course, I understand perfectly well that originality is not synonymous with truth. Even if the tale of Jesus was completely original, that would not necessarily make it any more likely to be true. And yet, when one learns just how derivative it was, it becomes quite difficult to see it as anything other than a borrowed myth, a reworking of a previous narrative. It would be a little bit like someone telling you a modern version of the plot from Clash of the Titans and expecting you to take it seriously even though you recognized the source.

While the derivative nature of the Jesus story - all by itself - does not prove that the story is false, it certainly seems to make it less plausible. It seems unlikely that it is an accurate description of actual events. And this holds true even if one is not willing to go so far as to claim that the authors of the Jesus story copied prior stories.

In the end, I do not find the lack of originality present in the Jesus narrative to be fatal by itself. However, I do believe it provides yet another reason to question the existence of a historical Jesus and the accuracy of the biblical accounts of the words and deeds attributed to him.

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