Faith or Fact
The Origin of Christianity
by: Henry M. Taber
Comment by JT: Be very, very careful with this particular chapter. While I noted earlier that we can learn a lot from these older texts, in this chapter we can learn where we can go wrong — and see where some of the more questionable ideas still floating on Christianity's origins around come from.
Remember, the study of comparative religion was in its infancy at the time this was written and perhaps some of the early scholars read too much into it. That's not to say that some of the practices and doctrines of Christianity did not come from other religions; and that there are not other practices and doctrines of Christianity which are held in common with other religions. There's no question that Christianity did borrow and appropriate, and no question there are common features with other religions. But many of the details used to support these concepts in the chapter below are questionable.
Some of these incorrect details were revived and re-popularized in recent years, most notably in the film Zeitgeist. I highly recommend doing a web search on "Zeitgeist" "debunked" for some perspective on this.
Do note that as through most of this book, Taber relies on a number of Christian authorities for his claims. This chapter isn't some atheist/agnostic plot to discredit the origins of Christianity. Much of the misinformation here came from Christian theologians getting their feet wet in comparative religion — actively looking for correspondences to validate the divine origin of various religions from a common source. We still see this today when Christian creationists (such as the Answers in Genesis crowd) claim that the many flood myths in other religions prove the worldwide Biblical flood.
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THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTIANITY.
ORTHODOX clergymen of the Christian Church have usually been unwilling to admit certain facts of history, fearing, doubtless, that they might tend to lessen confidence in the Orthodox Church. One of these facts is that Christianity is borrowed from the older religions: that it is, in many respects, almost an exact copy of previously existing religions, or, to say the least, that there is between it and the more ancient religions, a most remarkable similitude, agreement or coincidence.
In view of this truth it is gratifying to read from a recent number of the New York Observer of “the organization of a society for the study of ‘comparative religion,’” which the writer says is a “field of research which has been much neglected by Christian scholarship” (!) and that, to so orthodox a clergyman as the Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, Rev. Dr. F. F. Ellinwood, this organization is principally due. The Observer states that “Christian apologists” formerly endeavored to show “that the Christian religion was unlike all others, both in its essence and requirements, and therefore, could not be referred to that origin;” but that a change has taken place; that “the battle-ground of to-day is totally different. Christianity does not now, as formerly, deny or ignore these coincidences and resemblances.” It asks the question “Do they (these coincidences and resemblances) exist;” and answers, with the admission, “Yes, many and marvelous.” And of what do these coincidences and resemblances consist? The Observer answers:
“They consist in ideas, truths, cosmogonies, symbols, feasts and festivals,” and adds that “ethnological, philological and archeological research has revealed astonishing coincidences between the religion of the Bible and other ancient religions.” These wholesale admissions, coming from so unexpected (so orthodox) a quarter, are most noteworthy ; although it is simply an historical fact that all, or nearly all, that pertains to Christianity is found in earlier religions ; a fact well attested, as follows:
Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “There is in fact, as we now see, nothing in the externals of the Christian Church which is not a survival from the Churches of Paganism. Tonsured head and silvery bells and swinging tenser; Christmas and Easter festivals; Holy Madonna with her child ; the sacramental use of bread, of water and of wine; The very sign of the cross; are all ancient human institutions, rites and symbols. … Scratch a Christian and you come upon a Pagan. Christianity is re-baptized Paganism.”
Rev. M. J. Savage says: “Every rite and symbol of the Christian Church may be found in the older religions.”
Peter Eckler (in Gibbons Christianity,) says: “There is not a rite, ceremony or belief we now practice or profess that cannot be traced to its origin in Chaldean idolatry, in Assyrian, Egyptian or Roman mythology.”
Judge R. B. Westbrook says: “We find in all scriptures, ancient and modern, the same symbols, sacraments and ceremonies. ”
Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “The great religions of the world differ in degree only, not in kind... The holy water at the door of a Roman Catholic Church is a survival of the lustral water of the Pagan temple ; its censers and tapers and votive offerings, of Pagan censers and tapers and votive offerings ; “The worship of the Virgin Mary is a survival of the worship of Vesta… The conversion of the Roman Empire by Christianity was about equally the conversion of Christianity by the Roman Empire. The Empire became Christian; Christianity became Pagan.”
In Charles B. Waite’s History of the Christian Religion we read that “many of the more prominent doctrines of the Christian religion, prevailed hundreds and-in some instances — thousands of years before Christ. The doctrine of the immaculate conception, of an infant deity, was not uncommon in very ancient times. The title of ‘Son of God’ was very common in very ancient times. The belief in miracles has been common in all ages of the world. Resurrection from the dead was claimed for Mithras, Quexalcote, Osiris, Christna and others. The doctrine of the atonement has, in some forms pervaded the religion of all countries. The Trinity was an essential feature in the religion of many oriental countries and is considered, by Worsely, of very great antiquity. The doctrine of the remission of sins prevailed in India, Persia, and China. The doctrines of original sin, fall of man, and endless punishment, are all to be found in the religious systems of several ancient nations. Sprinkling with water was a religious ceremony of much antiquity. The sacrament was practiced among the Brahmins, the ancient Mexicans, and was introduced with the mysteries of Mithras.”
Capt. Robert C. Adams (son of the orthodox Rev. Nehemiah Adams, of Boston), says: “All the doctrines that are deemed essential to Christianity are the outgrowth of earlier beliefs… In India — 900 B.C. — Christna was born of the Virgin Devaki, and — 500 B.C. — Buddha was born of the Virgin Maya. In Egypt, Horus and his virgin mother. Isis, were worshipped long before the time of Christ… The doctrine of the Trinity was held by the Brahmins, who worshipped Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and by the Buddhists who reverenced ‘the three pure, precious and honorable Fo.’ … The term logos, or word, was applied to Apollo… The Holy Ghost is symbolized by the dove of Venus… The sacrament of bread and wine was observed in honor of Osiris, the risen God of ancient Egypt; and of Mithra, the Persian Saviour… Baptism was a universal custom, Buddhists dipped (three times), and Brahmins sprinkled… Confirmation was also practiced by the ancient Persians... The cross is a world-wide symbol of vast antiquity… I. H. S. was the monogram of Bacchus... Festivals to saints and martyrs replaced Pagan festivals… Christmas was the birthday of the Gods, and was the ancient feast of the sun… Good Friday and Easter were observed in honor of Adonis… The title ‘Mediator’ was applied to Mithra in Persia… Atonement was made by animals, men and Gods… Regeneration was symbolized by a person passing through clefts in rocks, as though born (again) out of the earth… The end of the world, the day of judgment and future punishment were matters of belief in remote times.”
The author of Bible Myths savs: “Every Christian doctrine, rite and symbol can be shown to have pre-existed in Pagan usage… Pagan festivals became Christian holidays; Pagan temples became Christian churches… The only difference between Christianity and Paganism is that Brahma, Ormazd, Osiris, Zeus, Jupiter, etc., are called by another name: Christna, Buddha, Bacchus, Adonis, Mithras, and others, turned into Jesus; Venus’ pigeon into the Holy Ghost; Diana, Isis, Devaki, and forty-five other virgin mothers, into the Virgin Mary ; the demi-gods and heroes of ancient times into Christian saints.”
Judge Richard B. Westbrook, author of The Bible, Whence and What. says: “ There is scarcely a story or-incident recorded, as an historical fact, in the Old Testament, that is not evidently founded, in whole, or in part, upon some more ancient legends of the East… No fundamental doctrine is taught in either the Old or New Testament that was not as distinctly taught centuries before the Hebrew-Egyptian Moses or the Judean Jesus were ever heard of… There is scarcely a dogma in Christianity which has not its match in the more ancient religion of Hindostan. There is not an attribute of deity, not a moral principle, not a single duty taught in any modern system of theology that has not been as truly held by many of the great leaders of the ancient Pagan religions… The basic principle of the fall of man and his recovery are not only similar, but almost identical, in all scriptures-Pagan, Jewish and Christian…, It would be easy to furnish a list of scores of Saviours, most of whom were subjects of promise and prophecy; miraculously conceived; themselves working miracles ; their destruction sought by jealous monarchs; generally dying for mankind and having a triumphant resurrection.”
Canon Freemantle (Fortnightly Review, March, 1887) says: “If we fix our minds upon ideas, once thought to be exclusively Christian, are there not incarnations, miraculous births and resurrections in the Brahminical religion?... The knowledge of the religions of the East and West show us points or the closest analogy with that recorded in the Bible, and the question is forced upon us whether there is any line to be drawn between them.”
Rev. J. T. Sutherland says: “Sacrificial ideas and ideas of atonement came from the religions of the heathen world. The rite of baptism, the sacrament, the ideas of immaculate conception and virgin mothers existed long before the time of Christ; the same rituals, symbols, holy days, miracles and incarnations.”
Prof. Huxley (in Popular Science Monthly for August, 1889) says: “There is strong ground for believing that the doctrines of the resurrection; of the last judgment; of heaven or hell; of the hierarchy of good angels ; of Satan and evil spirits, were derived from Persian and Babylonian sources and are essentially of heathen origin.”
T. W. Higginson, in his Sympathy of Religions, says: “In these various religions are constantly met the same doctrines -regeneration, predestination, atonement, future life, final judgment, divine logos, and the Trinity. The same prophecies and miracles-the dead restored and evil spirits cast out -and the same holy-days… Zoroaster, Confucius, Osiris and Buddha, have no human father, and between the lives of the last two and that of Christ an almost perfect parallel is shown.”
Alex, von Humboldt says of the different religions of the world: “Each fills some blank space in its creed with the name of a different teacher.”
But little, comparatively, was known until more recent years of the so-called sacred books of religions other than Christian. To Max Müller are we much indebted for translations which show a remarkable similitude in all religions. In a comparison of the Persian and Jewish religions, Prof. Miiller says: “What applies to the religion of Moses, applies to that of Zoroaster.” He also shows that in the more ancient religious books are found much of what Christianity has claimed as (exclusively) her own. Writing of the first three centuries after Christ, when Paganism was being absorbed by Christianity, he says: “That age was characterized by a spirit of religious syncretism — an eager thirst for compromise… Maya and Sophia, Mithra and Christ, Virof and Isaiah, were mixed up in one jumbled system of inane speculation.”
Mosheim says: “The Christians of the second century adopted certain rites and ceremonies employed in what was known as the ‘Heathen mysteries.’ ”
The Outlook, Rev. A. H. Lewis, D. D., editor says: “ Pagan theories and practice were diffused throughout the (Christian) Church.”
Origen (in early part of the third century) said: “Christianity and Paganism differ in no essential points, but have a common origin, and are really one and the same religion.”
Faustus, writing to Augustine (in the fourth century), says: “Nothing distinguishes you from the Pagans except that you hold your assemblies apart from them.”
Rev. Aug. Thebaud says: “At the beginning of the sixth century Rome was almost entirely Pagan.”
Seymore says: “The principles of Heathen Romanism and those of Christian Romanism are one and the same.”
Paganism is the trunk, the tree, the branches, the leaves; Christianity is but the bloom. “Christianity is the flower of Paganism,” says Rev. R. Heber Newton.
.The resemblance between the legend of a more remote antiquity, with respect to the Saviours of other religions and those relating to Christ are most striking.
Kersey Graves has written the stories of sixteen crucified Saviours.
Justin Martyr, addressing the Emperor Adrian, says: “As to Jesus Christ having been born of a virgin, you have your Perseus to balance that.”
Rev. S. Eitel — quoted approvingly by Rev. Dr. Kellogg (Presbyterian) in Light of Asia and Light of the World — says:
“With the single exception of Christ’s crucifixion, almost every characteristic incident in Christ’s life is also to be found narrated in the traditions of the life of Buddha.”
In an article by T. Bush in the Freethinkers Magazine for September, 1890, a comparison is drawn between the vicarious sacrifice of Alcestis (as related by Euripides in the fifth century B. C.) and that of Christ, and says: “Mark the striking resemblance of the characteristic features of the two fictions — Pagan and Christian. In both there was a death, burial and resurrection ; in both a descent into hell ; in both a failure on the part of their dearest friends to recognize the victims on their return from hell, and lastly no one was allowed to touch the resuscitated substitutes until a godly purification had been observed.”
Rev. Spence Harvey says: “The resemblance between the legend of Maya, the mother of Buddha, and the doctrine of the virginity of the mother of Christ, cannot but be marked.”
In Arthur Little’s Buddhism in Christianity he says: “The annunciation in the cases of Maya and Mary are quite similar… Buddha, like Christ, had twelve disciples, and called them with the same words that Christ did, saying, ‘Follow me.’ … Buddha, too, had his fasting, baptism and temptation... Buddha delivered a sermon on a mountain and taught in parables… Peter, walking in the water, has its counterpart in the life of Buddha… Buddha, Zarathusa and Mahomet were heralded by a star.”
Prof. Rhys Davids says: “A rich young man came by night to Buddha.”
The Abbe Prouveze says: “The points of similarity between (Tibetan) Buddhism and Christianity are far too minute to do away with the idea of plagiarism.”
In the Truth Seaker for December, 1888, John R. Charlesworth gives the Hindoo legend almost identical with that with reference to Christ. The Virgin Devanaguy was “overshadowed” by the God Vishnu and gave birth, in a stable, to Christna, who the shepherds adored. The reigning tyrant of Modura, seeking to destroy Christna, ordered the massacre of all male infants. This legend dates back 3,500 B. C. A somewhat similar legend exists among the Chinese, with reference to Buddha and his virgin mother Maya-devi.
That the sign of the cross, for centuries before the Christian era, was in common use the wide world over, and that, therefore, it was not exclusively a symbol of Christianity, is well attested.
“The sign of the cross was in use as an emblem long before the Christian era.” (Chamber’s Encyclopedia.)
“We find among ancient nations the cross as one of their most cherished symbols.” (Dr. Lundy.)
“The cruciform device occupied a prominent position among the many sacred and mystic symbols and figures connected with the mythologies of heathen antiquity.” (Encyclopedia Britannica.)
“From the dawn of Paganism in the East to the establishment of Christianity in the West, the cross was undoubtedly one of the commonest and most sacred of symbolical monuments.” (Bishop Colenso.)
“It is high time that Christians should understand a fact, of which skeptics have been long talking and writing, that the cross was the central symbol of ancient Paganism.” (Rev. A.H. Lewis, D. D.)
The dogma of the Trinity is likewise of Pagan extraction:
“The doctrine of the Trinity is an Eastern speculation; Christianity clothed itself in this ancient garb,.. betraying to him who knows the fabrics of the East, the looms of Egypt and India.” (Rev. R. Heber Newton.)
“The dogma of the Trinity is Platonic and Egyptian.” (Rev. Jas. Freeman Clarke.)
“We can trace the history of this doctrine (of the Trinity) and discover its source, not in the Christian revelation, but in the Platonic philosophy.” (Rev. Andrews Norton.)
“Traces of belief in the Trinity are to be found in most heathen nations. It is discernible in Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and most of the ancient Grecian mythologies and is very marked in Hindooism.” (Rev. Lyman Abbott.)
The Trinities of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva; of Osiris, Isis and Horus; of Odin, Vili and Ve, were believed in centuries before the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost was promulgated. Similitudes, in other respects, between the more ancient religions and Christianity are, likewise, simple matters of history.
The story of creation, of the temptation of Adam and Eve, of the flood, of the tower of Babel, were told long before a line of the Bible was written (see Outlook — July, 1890 — by Rev. Dr. Lewis.)
“The Greeks, Romans and Hindoos used the same words as those which commence (what is called) ‘the Lord’s prayer’ and which is found in almost identical language in the Jewish Kadish.” (Judge R. B. Westbrook, of Phila.)
“There exists not a people, whether Greek, barbarian, or any other race, among whom prayers are not offered up in the name of a crucified Saviour.” (A Church Father.)
The origin of the Christian gospels and doctrines are shown to be from Egyptian and other Oriental sources, in Diegesis by Rev. Robert Taylor.
What the Christian conceives to be God is similar to the Hindoo conception of Brahma, the Greek conception of Zeus or the Roman conception of Jupiter.
“A local heaven and a local hell are found in every mythology.” (Prof. John W. Draper.)
“The essence of the Christian religion is the center dogma of Buddhism.” (Schopenhauer.)
In every phase of this question we discover that the Christian religion is, indeed, almost an exact copy of earlier religions and mythologies.
Peter Eckler, in his notes on Gibbon’s Christianity, says: “The similarity between the Pagan and Hebrew belief is apparent… The miracles performed by Jews and Egyptians were precisely the same…The Roman Hercules was called a Saviour of mankind, born of a human mother and an immortal father. The same was also claimed for the Indian Chrishna, the Egyptian Osiris and the Grecian Apollo.”
The marvelous stories connected with the lives and times of Joshua, Balaam and Moses are evident derivations from the myths of more ancient times.
A. L. Rawson, in the Freethinker’s Magazine for March, 1888, says: “We read in the Iliad, of Juno hastening the sunset and of making a horse speak, and of Jupiter turning a serpent into stone. In the Odyssey, of Minerva retarding the sunrise and as transforming Odysseus. Calisthenes (quoted by Josephus) wrote that in the Pamphylian sea a passage for Alexander the Great’s army was opened, the waters rising and doing homage to him as a king.”
The late D. M. Bennett said, that “the Christian religion is made up from religious systems which existed many centuries prior to it. In every essential particular it is mere plagiarism; a reconstruction of the dogmas and superstitions of older heathen nations.”
The Truth Seeker says that Mr. Bennett traced forty events, traditions, ceremonies and dogmas, now regarded as Christian, to pre-existing religions.
Thus it would seem that the Christian religion has become heir to all the myths, mysteries, mythologies, dogmas, doctrines, legends, fables, traditions, superstitions, miracles, rites, ceremonies, sacraments and symbols of the older religions. Even the moral precepts of Christ were the utterances of Buddha, of Confucius and other religious teachers, centuries before the Christian era. As A. C. Bowen, in the North American Review for March, 1887, says: “Much of the ethical greatness and sweetness which we, in our bigotry, thought to belong to Christianity alone, has lived for centuries in the religions of the East.”
Renan says: “Nearly everything in Christianity is mere baggage brought from the Pagan mysteries.”
Col. Ingersoll says of Christianity, that it “administered on the estate of Paganism and appropriated most of the property to its own use.” Again he says: “The grave clothes of Paganism became the swaddling wraps of Christianity.”
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