I received a question about similarities between the biblical narrative and ancient near east mythology. The question specifically pointed to the virgin birth of Horus to Isis as a possible inspiration for the virgin birth of Jesus.
My response is below:
The objection that you bring up is, unfortunately, a common one. Let’s look at the worst case scenario and then the reality.
Let’s assume for the moment that ancient stories are very similar to biblical ones, especially in relation to Jesus. It would not follow from this that the gospel stories were invented or adjusted to fit those stories. First, this is implausible because the Christian movement had its start in Israel among conservative Jews. These were not people who were sympathetic to pagan mythology. In fact the biggest controversy in the early church was whether gentiles, after having abandoned their paganism, had to become Jews in order to really be Christian. The story of Christianity was so inextricably linked to Judaism that many of the earliest Jewish Christians didn’t even have a category for Gentile Christians. Furthermore, the writers of the gospels died for their accounts. The critic has a steep hill to climb if he wants to assert that these disciples suffered persecution and death on behalf of a story that they themselves had invented.
The reality is that these stories are not really comparable. In the story of Isis, for example, she did not have a virgin conception of Horus but rather she conceived Horus through intercourse with the remains of his father. This is hardly comparable to the story of Mary’s conception!
Remember that even if there were similarities, this is not enough to undermine the gospel accounts. The critic would need to give some reason to think that the gospel stories were fabricated.
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