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Q. Did Christianity and the Bible just evolve from myths? My neighbors gave me a copy of Peter Joseph's internet film, "Zeitgeist." I found it very upsetting and wonder if there is any truth to it? (T.C.)
Syncretistic Psychedelic Party
For our readers, "Zeitgeist" is a German term that means "the spirit of the age." This film raises several conspiracy theories including an old-fashioned stab at Christianity, a conspiratorial overview of the U.S. monetary system, and the presentation of a theory that 9/11 was created by the government in order to implement a Big Brother State. The resulting film is a syncretistic psychedelic party of "free association." No serious scholar would give it more than "entertainment" value.
The film seeks to inspire viewers to look at their world from a more critical perspective - that things are not always what they seem. The sources for the religious portion of this film are a "mishmash" of disjointed references to pagan mystery religions among other things. To many it may "appear" scholarly. However, the narrative is replete with misinterpretations and misquotes. "Throw enough mud at the walls and some of it will stick!" It is "disinformation" and we must treat it as such.
Film Supports Prophecy
Ironically, the conclusion of the monetary review in this film supports the biblical view of a coming one-world government and bio-chipped populace! Ask your neighbor to read Revelation 13:16-17 for himself. (Anyone ready for a bio-chip implant in the hand)?
Stunning Lack of Insight
Peter Joseph's introduction mocks Christianity. Yet, it reveals stunning lack of insight. We are presented with film coverage of the horrors of war such as bodies piled one on top of another in a German concentration camp. The final scene presents a cartoon heart with the caption, "But God LOVES you," accompanied by sneering, ridiculing laughter.
What Peter Joseph fails to recognize is that these horrid war scenes clearly reveal MAN's inhumanity to man! Men tortured Jews in concentration camps. Men pulverized Hiroshima. Men behead and dismember one another. Men fly planes into buildings and kill thousands.
The next time he ridicules the Biblical concept of hell and God's loving redemption of mankind he should remember his own presentation of man's utterly disgusting sin nature! The God of the Bible is a loving God.
"God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Ro. 5:8). Christianity Evolved from Ancient Texts?
The remaining criticisms of Christianity come from an old-fashioned "History of Religions" school of thought that gained popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It theorized that Christianity evolved from Roman mystery religions and Mesopotamian myths. But, that time is over. Done. "Been there and done that."
The broad sweeping comparisons between ancient mystery religions and Christianity have been thoroughly refuted by modern scholars through archaeological discoveries, the ability to shed more light on interpretation of ancient texts, and through modern historical methodology. But, how is your neighbor to know this unless he searches out the truth for himself?
For example, the film asserts that there were many ancient accounts of the flood, many stories of sons of gods, a variety of crucifixion stories, biblical numerology based on patterns of 12 and similar astrological events. The film even implies that Moses grabbed the Ten Commandments from earlier sources unrelated to the Bible.
Oh, really? (Never mind that the Ten Commandments is not alluded to or listed in the Egyptian Book of the Dead as the film suggests).
Anyway, let's take a quick look at some of these:
Ancient Flood Accounts
One myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh, is purported to be an earlier account of the Genesis flood story. While clearly a "deluge myth" added from Tablet XI to an original ten-tablet epic, I challenge all readers to find the similarities! Go to the library and read this story for yourself. Compare it with the biblical account of the flood. You don't have to be a scholar to see how different the biblical account is from the Epic of Gilgamesh! Nevertheless, wouldn't we expect to find memory traces of a worldwide flood if such an extinction-event really occurred?
That is just common sense - should it surprise us? NO!
Authors often quote other like-minded authors without doing their own homework. They tend to repeat false data over and over.
Zeitgeist says "Become a 'critical thinker'" - So let's start with this film!
Many of the film's references freely call murders or suicides, "crucifixions." These are extremely loose associations. Let's take a look at some of Peter Joseph's "crucifixions."
For example, in a mythical account a Greek god, Attis, was unfaithful to a would-be lover who happened to be the goddess Cybele. In response, Cybele made him go insane and, in turn, he castrated himself. He then ran into a forest where he bled to death. But the goddess repented and saw to it that he was reborn as an evergreen tree so as not to rot.
Granted…this is a simplistic version of a very complex, evolving story with many different versions depending upon your sources. But, would you call the highlights of the story a "crucifixion" or a "resurrection?" Hardly.
In general, the story of a dying and rising- god myth does not even appear until 150 A.D. according to Dr. Norman Geisler. This is almost 120 years after the story of Christ's resurrection.
Dr. Geisler points out that there is one so-called "resurrection" myth about the Egyptian god, Osiris. In this (shortened) tale Osiris is cut up into 14 little pieces and scattered around Egypt by his brother Set. His wife, Isis, gathers his body parts and bandages them together for a proper burial. The gods are impressed by Isis' devotion. Therefore, they bring him back to a shadowy existence as god of the underworld.
The Christian resurrection is defined as a "bodily resurrection." This means that your own body will be regenerated, not just your spirit floating around somewhere in the clouds. This also demonstrates Joseph's total ignorance of Christian teaching and philosophy.
Would you call the story of Osiris a Biblical "resurrection?" Hardly
The film claims that Mithra, a Persian deity, was resurrected after three days. (Hmmm….really)?
Mithraism was a military cult that practiced bull sacrifices and Sunday worship. In studying Mithraism in graduate school, I've never seen anything like the "crucifixion" or "resurrection" of Jesus Christ in this cult. The bull sacrifices and Sunday worship rituals were most likely patterned after early Christian rites - not the other way around. The cult of Mithraism in Roman history didn't gain a foothold until the second century - from around 136 A.D. onward. That's a long time after Christ's resurrection.
In general the mystery religions were based on mythical gods. That does not make Jesus an imaginary figure patterned after the lives of Attis, Cybele, Osiris, Mithra, Adonis, Eleusis, Thrace, Dionysus, and so on. (If you live close to a Mormon Temple it does not make you "Mormon"). This sort of syncretism is just sloppy scholarship!
Historian Dr. Witherington notes that Mr. Joseph's recounting of Egyptian mythology has a very few things right about Horus and Set, the sun god and his antithesis, but most of the story of Horus is wrong.
Peter Joseph claims Horus was born on December 25, born of a virgin, there is a star in the east, is worhipped by kings, and was a teacher by age 12. This, he claims, "was the original form of the myth in 3000 B.C."
"It would be nice to know how Mr. Joseph learned this, since we don't have any ancient Egyptian texts that go back that far on this matter" (Witherington n.d.,13).
Vegetation Rebirths - Not Historical
"All of these myths are repetitive, symbolic representations of the death and rebirth of vegetation. These are not historical figures, and none of their deaths were intended to provide salvation. In the case of Jesus, even non-Christian authorities, like Josephus and Tacitus, report that he died under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. The reports of his resurrection are quite early and are rooted in eyewitness accounts. They have the ring of reality, not the ethereal qualities of myth" (Strobel quotes Yamauchi, 178).
Jews Avoided Assimilation
The Jews&Christians were persecuted in large part because they avoided other religions. A primary foundation of being a Jew or Christian was (and is) to avoid at all cost blending with pagan religions. The concept of being "holy" is to keep oneself separate and thus avoid the fatal mistake of worshiping false gods. Try to "go figure" Zeitgeist's syncretistic assumptions! Again, Peter Joseph shows his lack of knowledge about Judeo-Christian theology and religous practices.
Jews Critiqued Polytheism
Dr. Witherington notes that the film begins by "informing us that cultures have always personified and anthropomorphized the sun and stars, depicting them as people. This is partially true, but it certainly isn't an explanation for the origins of Hebrew religion, which kept critiquing 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. If one reads the Old Testament carefully, you will notice that the sun and moon are seen as controlled by Yahweh (God)" (Zeitgeist n.d., 12).
Three Kings Historical?
The film claims that the account of the "Three Kings" was in effect borrowed or stolen from other ancient religions. Was it?
Now, let's think about this. Where do we find the account of "Three Kings" in the New Testament? In Matthew 2:1 we read,
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem."
There is no reference to three kings in this passage! None whatsoever! Zeitgeist confuses Christmas tradition with sacred text! We have "magi" from the east. But, we aren't told how many magi there were. It is likely that King Herod was terrified the magi would recognize the child as the real King! Thus, his order that Jewish male babies under two years of age were to be killed - due to feared competition.
December 25 Stolen?
The film asserts that Christianity assumed the historical birthdate of Jesus from competing ancient sources. It says December 25 is taken from other religions. Is that the truth?
Well…the New Testament does not give us Jesus' birthdate! Nowhere!
The primary reason Christians celebrate December 25 is because several centuries after the birth of Christ the church set this date specifically to replace the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice.
Another assertion made by this film is that the cross is based on astrology, a symbol of the zodiac. Hmmm…is it possible that Christians cherish the cross because Jesus was crucified on a cross? Is it possible the circle on the cross is a Celtic or High Cross? Could the "circle" represent a "halo" in some instances? Could it just be that simple?
The film states that the Bible is really an astrology text whose "ages" in the biblical text actually refer to astrological ages including Tarsus, Aries, Pisces, and Aquarius. Of course, Jesus was born in the Age of Pisces (the fish). Okay, let's look at the "real" story:
Early Christian believers adopted the fish symbol because the Greek word for Fish, ICHTHUS, is an acronym for the Greek words, "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior." "Insous, Christos, theos, uios and soter" (Witherington, n.d., 23). Furthermore, Jews in the Old Testament were warned to avoid astrology at the threat of death! (Deuteronomy 18). It's unlikely they violated this command! (Hmmm…again).
Historicity of Jesus
The film claims that Jesus never even existed! Oh, Really?
As Charlie Campbell summarizes, "There are thirty nine sources outside of the Bible, written within 150 years of Jesus' life that mention Him. These sources include the Jewish "Talmud," the Roman historian Tacitus, the Didache, Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, the Gnostic gospels," etc. Even "the Encyclopedia Britannica, fifteenth edition, devotes 20,000 words to the person of Jesus Christ and never once hints that He didn't exist." (Analysis&Response to Zeitgeist, AlwaysBeReady.com).
By the way, Peter Joseph's accusation that references to Christ were interpolated into Josephus' historical account is false and outdated - completely refuted. The film's author needs to update his historical sources.
No True Scholar Doubts Existence of Jesus
No serious scholar in the twenty-first century doubts that Jesus existed. None! They argue over whether or not Jesus is who He said He was. But, they don't dispute or quibble over his existence.
Dr. Ben Witherington III, highly respected historian and scholar, remarks:
"Here's the big point —- Mr. Joseph reads the story of Jesus back into these other mythological stories, and then claims - Shazam —- the story of Jesus comes from these other stories, which he has anachronistically read in light of the Jesus story. This is both bad history and bad religious analysis… (As the eminent Dr. Witherington's Grandma told him, "Don't be so open-minded you let your brains fall out)!"
Both Jewish historians like Josephus, and Roman ones like Tacitus and later Suetonius, are perfectly clear that Jesus actually existed, and Tacitus tells us he died on a cross, being executed under Pilate.
Apparently Mr. Joseph couldn't even get this one fact straight. There is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for the historical existence of Julius Caesar!"…(Zeitgeist n.d., 20).
Patterns of 12…Occult, Astrological Symbols
Zeitgeist continuously points to patterns of 12, or to things like the prophetic pattern of Joseph's life as it later surfaced in Yeshua's (Jesus) life…. So?
Pattern IS prophecy! There is no question the story of Joseph (Yeshua) prefigured Christ. Lots of Old Testament stories do. It establishes "prophetic miracles" because many of the prophecies are proved to have been written centuries before Christ!
Furthermore, there is no question that numbers play an important role in biblical imagery. Symbols, types, signs, numbers and figures-of-speech play an extremely important role in the Bible.
What's the point? Problem? Symbols and prototypes foreshadow events in biblical texts. We call it "fulfilled prophecy."
In addition to all of this, a very early study of stars came from the ancient Jewish Mazzeroth - the zodiac. This was "pre-Babylonian" and "anticipated God's entire plan for mankind" including the story of the Virgin birth and the coming of a Messiah (Missler 1999). It isn't until later that the full Babylonian cult of astrology developed and twisted the early truths from Jewish sources.
Portal of Evil
For the record, by the way, astrology is a punishable offense in the Bible - punishable by death! It is seen as a portal for evil. I seriously doubt that ancient Judaism embraced Babylonian astrology and incorporated it into their sacred texts! (See Deuteronomy 18).
Faded Memories of Truth
Finally, if the Bible is true wouldn't we expect to find myths and memories of similar things worldwide?
Of course we would.
We would expect to find "counterfeit" religions, fables and myths containing elements of "truth" worldwide. We would expect to find ancient, faded fragments and cloudy memories of things like the flood, creation, the Ten Commandments, patterns of 12 or seventies and so forth. In fact, it would be strange if we did not.
Conclusion: Scripture is Accurate
Bible says Earth is Round:
Here are a couple of things to share with your neighbor about what the Bible actually says about the planets and our universe.
Around 2500 years ago many people believed the earth was flat and was carried on the back of a gigantic turtle. What did the Bible say 2500 years ago?
The Bible said the earth is "round" (Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:10).
"It is He who sits above the
circle of the earth…"
"He has inscribed a circle
on the surface of the waters…"
Earth Suspended in Space:
The Bible said the earth "hangs on nothing" or is suspended in space (Job 26:7).
Space is Expanding:
The Bible said that the heavens are "stretched" or space is expanding - just as astronomers teach us today (Zechariah 12:1 and Job 9:8, among other references).
"Thus declares the LORD who
stretches out the heavens…"
…"Who alone streches out
Sun Orbits Galaxy:
The Bible said the sun makes a "circuit" or an orbit around the galaxy (Psalm 19:6). Modern astronomy says the same thing today. But the Bible said it thousands of years before it was confirmed by science.
"Its rising is from one end
of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other
end of them;
And there is nothing
hidden from its heat."
Time is Relative:
The Bible taught what Albert Einstein said thousands of years later. Time is "relative." (Ps. 90:4&2 Pet 3:8)
"For a thousand years in
Are like yesterday when
it passes by,
Or as a watch in the
…"with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day."
"Forever, O LORD,
Your word is settled in
Heaven" (Ps. 119:89).
"Thy Word is truth" (John 17:17).
About author Peter Joseph - we could find no biographical information about Mr. Joseph which likely means he has none to speak of - no expertise in ancient languages or religious history. We must all remember to "be shrewd as serpents and innocents as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
"Disinformation" - false information leaked so as to confuse another nation's intelligence operations (Webster's New World Dictionary 1995).
Our battle against "disinformation" is to "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ"…(2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV).
…"we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (men like Peter Joseph), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)._____________
Evans, Craig A. 2006. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Geisler, Norman. 1999. Was Christianity borrowed from Mithraism? in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Books.
Missler, Chuck. 1999. Tape cassettes. Signs in the heavens. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House.
Nash, Ronald. 1994. Was the New Testament influenced by pagan religions. Christian Research Institute.
Strobel, Lee. 2007. The case for the real Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Witherington, Ben. n.d. The zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist movie.' www.BenWitherington.com
—- 2006. What have they done with Jesus? Beyond strange theories and bad history. NY: HarperOne.
Authors: Valorie Mays Emilio received her M.A. in History from UCLA specializing in early church history. Ken Emilio is a graduate of CSULB and holds the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Both earned a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
Students: Please note that we are using the Harvard Citation Style (similar to Turabian author-date) which is computer-friendly and allows for some variations in format - not in content. Always check with your professors for required style and format.
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Eph. 6:13, ESV).
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