Skeptics have long sought to prove Jesus is a fictional character. They have posited the story of Jesus is somehow paralleled with myths about Osiris, Horus, Mithras, Krishna, or some other mythological deity. They will even manufacture parallels where none actually exist in the ancient sources.*
It is highly telling to note that virtually no serious academic of the Ancient Near East or of Biblical studies considers the “Christ myth theory” as having any merit. Even the agnostic Bart Ehrman states: These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.**
There is the suggestion that since early written accounts of Jesus are decades removed from the events recorded and thus are untrustworthy. Some suggest that a span of 30-50 years is sufficient proof that Jesus was a made up figure. After all, with that much time, it is easy to manufacture a person who didn’t really exist. Of course, they aren’t taking into account oral testimony that predates the writings (which the texts refer to). Those sources (and even some written) were in existence from day one.
But here’s the rub. No one in the ancient world actually believed Osiris, Horus, Mithras, or these other figures were historical figures who literally walked on the face of the earth, interacting with humans in real space-time-history. You won’t find one account in the ancient world that reads something like, “In the fourth year of the reign of Thutmose III, Horus was born after his mother resuscitated his father’s body and had sex with it…” (um, not quite a virgin birth, there…). That isn’t how myths and mythology work. They are always vague.
The people of the first century AD were just as sophisticated as 21st century Westerners. They knew dead people generally stay dead and those with limbs cut off (like ears) don’t get them miraculously reattached. The Romans, Greeks, and Jews were not ignorant in the ways of biology or life and death. Humans are rather skeptical by nature.
And yet, no ancient skeptic in the first three hundred years of Jesus’ birth ever suggested that Jesus, the son of Mary was a fictional character. No skeptic in the first century AD suggests that Jesus was not crucified.
Much is speculated about how the gospels and New Testament writings came 20-30 years after Jesus’ death and are thereby unreliable. Yet, even after hundreds and even thousands of years following the creation of the Horus/Osiris myth, or the Mithras myth–no one ever suggested that Horus, Osiris, or Mithras existed and were seen by others. No one ever offers a historical reference of their lives on the earth.
No one seriously believed even a hundred years after Homer a young man named Paris really presided over a contest of three goddesses that resulted in a war led by historical figures Agamemnon and Menelaus against king Priam of Troy. People knew this was fiction. The late first century Romans didn’t suddenly believe that Virgil wrote a historically accurate account of how Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan war, the son of the goddess Aphrodite founded Rome. They knew it was fiction.
Conveniently ignored is the fact that Christianity sprung out of Judaism and that the first followers of Jesus were the equivalent of orthodox Jews.*** The Jewish men and women who proclaimed Jesus as LORD were not primitive aboriginal people who were uneducated and people who were unaware that dead people stayed dead. They were not people who were easily fooled by smoke and mirrors or fireside tales. And they certainly didn’t fall for pagan myths.
So for those who do not wish to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. That is a discussion we can have. For those who wish to believe that Jesus was just a rabbi who got cross purposes with the Roman government–that is a conversation that is worth examining. But please, let’s disabuse ourselves from this notion that Jesus did not exist or that somehow a completely fictional person was created and believed on as god within a few years by Jewish people who borrowed the idea from pagan myths!
*Note: contrary to the claims that Mithras, Dionysus, Osiris/Horus, or Krishna were born of virgins on December 25 (which is not even a date used of Jesus’ birth in the Bible), had 12 disciples, were crucified and then raised from the dead on the first day of the week–there are almost no parallels between the accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection and that of these pagan deities. Dr. Bart Ehrman: “Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the ‘pagan’ savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).”
***The often quoted Nag Hamdi texts are second century documents that present a Jesus that more resembles a second century Greek dualistic philosopher as opposed the the earlier attested gospel texts which, quite naturally, present Jesus as a first century Jewish rabbi.