Today as I spoke with my friend from work—the friend who is into eastern thought, and other things—he brought up how, supposedly, Horus, one of the Egyptian gods, in their pantheon; was born of a virgin, was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. Apparently there was a very shoddy movie made called Zeitgeist (which sounds as if it had the depth of the kind of stuff you will find on the History Channel when it seeks to supposedly give us the history of the Bible, Jesus, etc.) which tried to make the connection between ‘Horus’ and Jesus; asserting that Jesus was simply a reconstitution of the Horus myth in Egyptian (so called) ‘Astro-theology’. Oh yeah, supposedly Horus had three kings come visit him at his birth, and also had twelve disciples. When it comes down to actual research and scholarship (V. the quack scholarship that makes such claims); the reality is that these kinds of parallels couldn’t be further from the truth. Here is what Ben Witherington III, a world known scholar in the area of Biblical Studies, and Jesus studies in particular had this to say about the scholarship and claims behind the making of the movie Zeitgeist:
- Egyptian thought was polytheistic and despised by early Jews; what is discussed in the Book of the Dead and elsewhere in Egyptian literature is an afterlife in another world, not a coming back to this one in the same body;
- there is no hint of any direct influence of Egyptian religion per se, in the OT or NT; you will not be finding seminars at the national SBL meeting on how Zoroastrian religion and Egyptian religion explains all we need to know about the origins of Biblical religion; what you can find in the Bible is the deconstruction of other culture’s myths, or better the de-mythologizing of such material;
- George Earnest Wright of Harvard used to stress that Jews were not on the whole a myth-making people; they grounded their stories in history, particularly, salvation history; when they used mythological images (like e.g. the image of the great sea monster Leviathan) they used them in
historical ways for historical purposes (e.g. Revelation 12);
- the filmmakers have not bothered to consult any expert commentators on the Hebrew or Greek texts of the Bible; they simply cite the King James Version;
- it is based on shabby “research” and actually no historical understanding about Jesus and the origins of Christianity;
- it is partially true that cultures have always personified and anthropomorphized the sun and stars, but it certainly isn’t an explanation for the origins of Hebrew religion, which critiqued sun- and moon-god worship, denied there were multiple deities in the heavens, and ridiculed the notion that stars
were gods who controlled one’s fate; in the OT you will notice that the sun and moon are seen as controlled by Yahweh;
- when the subject of “sons of God” and the one true God does come up, the phrase in Genesis 6 refers to fallen angels who mate with human women; later in the OT it refers to the king, and finally to the last great king — the messiah; there is nothing whatsoever in any of this that is remotely close to the idea of sun worship, or seeing the sun itself as a deity;
- there is no reason to associate the word “sun” with the word “son,” and simply blending together all ideas about both in antiquity, a syncretistic thinking, is at the heart of this film, and leads to massive distortions of religious history;
- the analysis of Egyptian mythology in the film has very few things right; it gets most of the story of Horus wrong; claims the Horus myth says he was born on Dec 25th, born of a virgin or virginal conception, star in the east, worshipped by kings, was a teacher by 12; this disinformation is refuted by analysis of the proper sources (e.g. see my bibliography below).
- the film is guilty not only of falsely blending together various different religions which developed largely regionally and independently of each other, it falsifies the claims made in the Egyptian myths; ironically it does a disservice to all religions;
- other egregious errors in his presentation of Horus: was not called the lamb of God, was not crucified and resurrected, even in the myth;
- the story of Horus is of course the story of the rebirth of the sun in the east, and is based on the cycles of nature, not on any historical claims at all, unlike the story of Jesus; the Horus story does not include many of the elements the film claims it does;
- it is not true that it was believed that all these deities were born on Dec 25th; in any case the Bible never claims or suggests Jesus was born on such a date;
- Nor is it true that all these stories have basically the same elements and pattern; the film is an equal opportunity distorter of world religions in general;
- the film reads the story of Jesus back into these other mythological stories, and then claims the story of Jesus comes from these other stories; this is bad history and bad religious analysis (also called circular reasoning);
- to my knowledge there is no story that dates from before the time of Jesus that has most of the specific elements listed as distinguishing the Jesus story: virginal conception, crucifixion, and bodily resurrection of a divine Son of God;
- the Hebrews already long since had a religion when they went to Egypt both in the time of Joseph and in the time of Moses; experts in ancient Hebrew religion will tell you (e.g. Ancient Israel by Roland DeVaux) that the differences between a monotheistic or henotheistic religion that is grounded in historical persons and actions, and the Egyptian mythology which is grounded in the cycles of nature, the rising and setting of the sun, the motions of the stars, are considerable;
- see for example the ancient poem in Psalm 8 — the sun, moon, and stars are all seen as the works of God’s fingers, like a child molding things out of playdough; the Biblical God is a God of creation, one who has made all things that exist; in that same psalm we see that human beings are the crown of God’s creation, created in God’s image;
- notice the anti-anthropomorphic theology here: God is not the sun, he does not have a son that is the sun, indeed creation is simply something that the one true God has made; the important part is this desacralizes nature; Nature is not a god or gods, it is not divine (Romans 1:20-25), and neither are human beings as human beings.
- this Judaeo-Christian idea about the world and its creatures is the basis of modern science, which assumes that creation is not God, and therefore is not defiled by inquiry, scientific examination, experiment, etc; the attempt to portray Biblical religion as anti-science, knows neither the origins of Biblical religion nor the origins of modern science;
- the scholarly work on the star in the east, if it is historical, centers on the conjunction of planets, specifically Jupiter and Venus (e.g. the Nativity); it does not center on Sirius, the dog star; Bethlehem certainly does mean the “house of bread” but it has nothing to do with the constellation Virgo, which indeed is short for virgin; it has to do with this region being fertile enough to support both grass and wheat — hence shepherds and farmers (i.e. The “Fertile Crescent” along the Nile); Jesus’ mother’s name is Miryam — from the OT sister of Moses, Miriam. Maria or Mary is simply our anglicized way of referring to that name;
- the attempt to explain the origins of the story of the death and resurrrection of Jesus on the basis of the Winter Solstice and what happens on Dec 22-25 is laughable; the Gospels are clear that Jesus was not in the tomb for three whole days, only parts of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (he rose “on the third day”); if an attempt was made by the Evangelists to conform this to some astrological phenomena or pattern, this is inexplicable;
- there is no association in the NT of either the death or the resurrection of Jesus with the Winter Solstice or what happens then; the story of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection are not told in light of such thinking at all; indeed the notion of bodily resurrection had long existed in Judaism before the time of Jesus (see e.g. N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God), and was not concocted in light of astrology or any other nature religion;
- nature religions are grounded in the cycle of the seasons, and focus on fertility gods; this is very different from religions based on history and revelation or prophecy; the syncretism of the film does not allow that there are different types of world religions, with differing origins;
- the twelve disciples do not represent the 12 constellations of the Zodiac; there was this little entity called the 12 tribes of Israel, going back to Jacob and his 12 sons; those stories in Genesis are not astrological in character at all, but rather are explanations of a historical origins of a people; the 12 disciples are chosen by Jesus (Matthew 10), not because he was a stargazer, but because he was attempting to reform, and indeed re-form Israel;
- the twelve disciples represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and Jesus promised that at the eschaton they will be sitting on 12 thrones, judging those 12 tribes; once more, this is historical and eschatological thinking, not astrological thinking, and the claim that the Bible has more to do with astrology than anything else, can only be called a category mistake;
- clearly the filmmakers have done no work whatsoever in the study of the various genre of Biblical literature which they could have gotten from any standard introduction to the Bible, even those written by agnostics and skeptics;
- the origins of the symbol of the cross is not derived from the cross imposed on the circle of the 12 astrological signs of the Zodiac; consider the most basic ancient zodiac pattern we have, e.g. the floor of the synagogue at Sepphoris; Jews, like every other group of agrarian peoples were interested in the weather and the seasons. Do we find a cross pattern? No. The filmmakers have done no first hand historical work on ancient Zodiac symbols, they have simply believed the pablum imbibed from various out-dated, and inaccurate sources;
- the origin of the symbol of the cross of course derives from the Roman practice of crucifixion, not from some supposed astrological pattern; Jesus died in 30 AD on a cross outside of Jerusalem, a victim of Roman injustice as even the Romans admitted;
- much is made about how in 1 AD a new “age” or astrological cycle begins, after the age of the Ram; however, Jesus was born somewhere between 2-6 BC, not in 1 AD; and we know this because Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still king of the Holy land, and the records are clear that Herod died about 2 BC; ergo: Jesus had to be born before then;
- Jesus’ birth certainly did not usher in the age of Pisces or the fish; the fish symbol comes into Christianity from the gematric value of the Greek word ICHTHUS — with each letter standing for a word, in this case Insous, Christos, Theos, Huios and Soter — Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.
- Does Moses represent the new age of Ares? Nope. Was the golden calf an attempt to worship Taurus the bull constellation? Probably not. Do Jews blow a ram’s horn because Moses threw his tablets down in disgust at the worship of Taurus and inaugurated the age of the Ram? I am sure Moses would be surprised to hear it.
- The viewers of such a film in a Jesus-haunted culture which is Biblically illiterate need to check everything carefully (cf. 1 Thess 5:21; 1 Peter 3:15), especially outlandish historical and religious claims.
Ben Witherington III is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M. Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies. (see the source I took this from here, this source, just prior to this long quote from Witherington does an excellent job itemizing and indexing how outlandish and shoddy these kinds of claims are by going directly to the texts of the Egyptians themselves, and by referencing actual scholars and Egyptologists in contrast to the apparent shoddy “scholarship” used to promote this film … just like the History Channel does).
I hope my friend will take this to heart; there is actual scholarship available on almost any topic of research. Ones best bet, if the person is really really serious and genuine about Truth; is to go to the best of known scholarship, and quit hanging around fringe and wannabe scholarship. All the seeker will get from that kind of approach is fringe and wannabe information that most certainly will not stand up under any kind of critical scrutiny or evidence.