Give Me Resurrection or Give Me Death!


I’ve looked at the concept of gods dying and being resurrected before, and it really seems like there’s a tendency to ascribe more similarities to the various myths of the sort than there really are. It’s a common theme, but not all the stories work the same way. It’s been proposed that the entire story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and sometimes even the basic outline of his life, are based on an earlier myth. There’s still a meme going around that originated sometime in the nineteenth century with an amateur Egyptologist named Gerald Massey, who insists that the Egyptian god Horus was said to have been born of a virgin, baptized in a river, led twelve disciples, crucified between two thieves, and come back to life after three days.

Now, Egyptian mythology developed a lot over the centuries, but I have yet to see any evidence outside the meme itself that ANY of these things are accurate. About the closest you can get is that Isis is said to have healed her son after he was stung by a scorpion or bitten by a snake, but it’s a real stretch to say that that counts as a resurrection.

I’ve also seen accounts of Krishna and Dionysus being crucified, but more reliable sources indicate that Krishna was killed with an arrow, while Dionysus was either transferred into Zeus’s leg after his mother died or revived after being torn apart by Titans. There’s definitely a recurring theme here, but is there necessarily any conspiracy involved? I mean, people in every society die, so being able to conquer death would be pretty much the ultimate miracle no matter where you go.

When comparing and contrasting such myths, I would say it’s important to acknowledge that not every culture or religion saw death in the same way. Some teach that life just ends, others believe in a spiritual or physical afterlife, and still others favor reincarnation or the soul being absorbed into nature. I’ve seen references to the ancient Greek dead as “shades,” but they must have some physical being if they can feel the pleasures of Elysium or the torments of Tartarus. If Orpheus had been successful in rescuing Eurydice from Hades, what form would she have taken back in the world of the living? Would she have been a ghost, regained the use of her body, or gotten a new body? The indication in Greek mythology seems to be that it would be physically possible for the dead to return to the surface, but the gods make sure it doesn’t happen, because it would mess up the established order. For that matter, can a god die at all, and if so will they stay dead? Osiris was reassembled after having his body cut to pieces, but had to remain in the underworld.

Persephone is forced to commute between Hades and the surface, but as the daughter of two of the top Olympians, I doubt she could actually die.

Baldur does straight-up die, but it’s said that he could have come back if it weren’t for Loki‘s interference, and he actually will return to life after most of the other gods bite the dust at Ragnarok.

And would Ganesh losing his head and having it replaced count as a resurrection?

Also, early Christians disagreed on the exact nature of Jesus’ resurrection, as well as whether or not he was actually God. The orthodox answer was kind of similar to that of avatars in Hinduism. The Greek and Norse gods would hang out on Earth incognito, but I don’t know of any stories of their flat-out living an entire human life from birth to death. On the other hand, Krishna didn’t have his earthly body restored after dying, but just returned to being Vishnu.

The Trinity can perhaps also be linked to the Hindu Trimurti, but many other religions have gods taking on multiple aspects.

I couldn’t say whether there was actual Indian influence on early Christianity, or vice versa for that matter. The orthodox Christian view does seem to incorporate both Jewish and pagan elements, but that doesn’t mean it directly parallels anything else. Certainly, a lot of things Christians seem to take for granted wouldn’t have really fit into a first-century Jewish mindset, at least from what I know of it. There were ideas that the Messiah could be either an Earthly king or a heavenly being, but I don’t know of one that he’d actually be God in the flesh, or that he would suffer and die for humanity, come back to life, be born of a virgin, release people from the Law of Moses (I doubt many of them would have seen that as something from which they’d WANT to be free), or fulfill a bunch of scripture that wasn’t previously regarded as messianic prophecy. For that matter, Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice is based on the Jewish notion of animal sacrifice to atone for sin, but that wasn’t the ONLY purpose of the sacrificial system. It’s strange that there are still Christians who insist the Jews of the time rejected their Messiah, when Jesus didn’t really do anything the Messiah was supposed to do. Even if there HAD been proof that he came back from the dead (and I don’t think there was), there are other scriptural accounts of people coming back to life, and they weren’t worshipped. There are also stories of people who aren’t on God’s side being able to do miraculous deeds. Perhaps that’s part of why, despite deriving from Judaism and being centered around a Jew, Christianity caught on more with gentiles. They might have seen some appealing similarities to their previous beliefs, but that doesn’t make it a direct rip-off of Horus or Osiris.

You have to turn the crank and listen to “Pop Goes the Weasel” before Jesus comes out.

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2 Responses to Give Me Resurrection or Give Me Death!

  1. Bryan T Babel says:

    “There were ideas that the Messiah could be either an Earthly king or a heavenly being, but I don’t know of one that he’d actually be God in the flesh, or that he would suffer and die for humanity, come back to life, be born of a virgin…or fulfill a bunch of scripture that wasn’t previously regarded as messianic prophecy.”

    http://www.strangenotions.com/doubting-jesus-a-catholic-biblical-scholar-responds-to-skeptical-questions/

    Did Jesus Fulfill the Jewish Prophecies?

    David Nickol: Did Jesus fulfill the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah? If the answer in Dr. Pitre’s book is “yes,” what are the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled? Also, what does it mean to “fulfill” a prophecy? Perhaps a better question would be, “What was predicted or foretold in the Old Testament about Jesus?” Or were the “prophecies” outside (and after) the Old Testament? (The word Messiah is not found in the Old Testament.)

    GuineaPigDan: I guess I’ll give one a shot. How come prophecies of Jesus weren’t more specific, like just plainly saying “your Messiah will be Yeshua, born around 4BC and is also the 2nd Person of the Trinity and will be crucified, resurrected and end sacrifices.” Having the Jews develop one idea of the Messiah but then suddenly told, “Psych! This other person was the Messiah” is a bit like reading a mystery novel where the reader didn’t get a chance to guess the ending on their own.

    Brant Pitre: These are both great questions. A whole book could be written on Jesus and Jewish prophecy; for now, just a couple of quick points.

    First, David, I’m sorry to say that someone has misinformed you about the word “messiah” (Hebrew mashiach). This word is used dozens of times in the Old Testament—usually as a title for the “anointed” king (for example, see 1 Sam 2:10, 16:6; Ps 2:2; 89:39). Moreover, it actually occurs in the most explicit prophecy about the coming death of a future “messiah” (Hebrew mashiach) that we possess (Daniel 9:25-27).

    And intriguingly—to answer your question, GuineaPigDan—this prophecy in Daniel 9 not only proclaims that the messiah will one day come and be killed, it actually foretells when this will take place: namely, some 490 years after the “going forth of the word” to restore and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple and before a final future destruction of the “sanctuary” and the city, in which “sacrifice and offering” will “cease” (Daniel 9:25-27). (Note the reference to the future ‘end’ of ‘sacrifice’ you mentioned.)

    Indeed, as the first-century historian Josephus tells us, that is one reason the book of Daniel was so popular among first-century Jews, because Daniel gave a timeline for the fulfillment of his prophecies (Josephus, Ant. 10.267-68). A solid case then can be made that Daniel’s prophecies were expected by ancient Jews to be fulfilled sometime in the first century A.D.

    Second, the book of Daniel wasn’t just a favorite among many ancient Jews; it seems to have been one of Jesus’ favorites as well. If you read the Synoptic Gospels carefully, you will see that Jesus’ two most frequently used expressions are (1) “the kingdom of God” and (2) “the Son of man.” Where does he get these expressions? Above all, from the book of Daniel’s oracles about the future coming of the “kingdom” of “God” (Daniel 2) and the coming of the heavenly “Son of man” (Daniel 7). Significantly, the earliest first-century Jewish interpretations of Daniels’ “Son of man” identify him as the Messiah (e.g., 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra). Once this is clear, Jesus’ use of this expression to refer to himself becomes even more striking, since our earliest Jewish interpreters of Daniel also identified the fourth kingdom with the Roman empire. In other words, according to Daniel 2 and 7, the kingdom of God and the messianic Son of Man were expected to come not just ‘one day’ but sometime during the reign of the Roman empire.

    So, GuineaPigDan, some prophecies are more vague, but some prophecies are quite specific—and it’s precisely these prophecies from the book of Daniel that Jesus chooses to refer to himself and to the kingdom he is bringing.

    These aren’t, of course, the only kinds of “prophecies” Jesus sets out to fulfill. Jesus also engages in prophetic signs and actions that hearken back to the Old Testament, in which he ‘reenacts’ certain events from Jewish Scripture like the divine revelation of the name “I am” to Moses (see Mark 6) or the Cry of Dereliction from Psalm 22—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Mark 15), but reconfigures them around himself. This kind of fulfillment is more commonly referred to as typology or recapitulation.

    There’s so much more to say. Put it this way: pretty much the entire second half of my book is devoted to examining Jesus, Jewish prophecy, and biblical typology. After reading, I don’t think you’ll walk away thinking that “the Jews” had “one idea of the Messiah” and that Jesus had another. Check it out for yourself and see what you think of the evidence. See The Case for Jesus, chapters 8, 9, 11-12.

    “release people from the Law of Moses”

    What he did was release people from the consequences of not living up to the Law. Shortly thereafter, Peter was authorized to proclaim that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism first to be Christians, and so were not bound by the outward physical strictures of the Law of Moses if they had the inward “spiritual circumcision.”

    “there are other scriptural accounts of people coming back to life, and they weren’t worshipped.”

    In Christian doctrine, it was not simply what he did, but who he was that made his resurrection special. Also, if you look at the other bringings-back-to-life in the Bible, you’ll find they are always through someone TO someone. Jesus is the only one because of the power of his Father who is self-rising. Again according to doctrine he brings the Manhood up into the Godhood, allowing eternal life to be available to all who partake in his nature. Quite a different idea than simply continuing an earthly life.

    • Nathan says:

      I’ve seen indications that the time period indicated by Daniel was actually pointing to the reign of Antiochus during the second century BC, when the book was most likely written. That’s not to say people in Jesus’ time didn’t apply its predictions to their day, but that’s still being done today.

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