He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, January 2, 2017

Fair Questions: How similar are the births of the world's major religious figures?

I recently stumbled upon a meme that was shared on a social media platform.  The image above makes a variety of claims about pre-Christian religious figures in order to assert their similarity to Jesus of Nazareth.  Perhaps with the purpose of implying that Christianity's founding was derivative, a re-hashed old story.

Let's suppose for the sake of argument that Christianity's founding was just a re-hash of an old story.  If so, the creator of this meme has completely failed to demonstrate that.  If the creator had bothered to even go so far as to check the Wikipedia article on miraculous births of religious figures, he or she would have found that many of these claims about pre-Christian religious figures are simply false.

Let's take stock of the birth narratives of Horus, Mithra, Krishna, and Dionysus.

  1. According to Plutarch, Isis made a golden phallus so that Osiris could impregnate her after his own got tragically removed.  Other tales have his penis surviving the adventure in the Nile so that he could impregnate her the old-fashioned way.  The conception and birth of Horus wasn't exactly virginal.
  2. Last I checked, Mithra was either born of a rock or existed eternally, depending on whether we're talking about the Iranian or later Graeco-Roman understanding.  Either way, not born of a virgin.
  3. Krishna's mother Devaki was married to a quite fertile husband and had 7 babies pass through her womb before Krishna came along.  It seems rather unlikely that this would count as a virgin birth, and it doesn't seem as if it was intended to be.
  4. Depending on which Dionysus we're talking about, he could have been born of Zeus's thigh, a woman Zeus impregnated, or one of multiple goddesses Zeus impregnated.  The only one that might have been a virgin is Semele, and I don't know of any textual evidence that she was said to be a virgin.

The birth narrative of the Buddha actually seems to be more similar to the birth narrative of Jesus Christ than these others listed here, and it's not particularly similar to the birth narrative of Christ, as you can read for yourself here.

The claims made in this meme about the births of the various pre-Christian religious figures are either flagrantly false or based on unclear evidence.  And that's just the birth-related claims.  It gets worse if we examine the other claims.  For example, Krishna was not a carpenter, nor was he resurrected (though as an avatar of Vishnu he was repeatedly reborn), nor was he called "Son of God," a phrase that wouldn't even make sense in the Hindu pantheon.

One of his many titles is Son of Aditi, who is the mother of various Vedic gods.  But because Hinduism is a broad term describing lots of different religions that share a similar cosmology, there are disagreements between texts and religious communities as to whether she can be identified with the Supreme Godhead Brahma.

There are actually similarities between Jesus and other religious figures.  It's just that the creator of the above meme apparently didn't know about this: the better argument for the similarity between Dionysus and Jesus would be that both are dying-and-rising gods.  But even there, the circumstances are not so similar that it appears to be a case of re-hashing another religion's story.

It seems really unfair to these various ancient religions to spread falsehoods about them, regardless of how noble the purpose of doing so might be.  Surely, there are better ways to criticize Christianity than to lie about other religions.

I have a lot more respect for people who rationally critique Christianity head-on rather than critiquing Christianity by making false claims about other religious traditions.

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Note:  The image above is one of many memes that attempt to demonstrate that various religions are strikingly similar.  There are many others, and they generally follow the same basic format of pretending lots of religions are much more similar than they actually are based on insufficient evidence at best and based on no evidence at worst.


  1. Also, Jesus was not born on December 25th. That's when Christians choose to celebrate His birth, but we actually have no idea when He was born.

  2. If it's true that we don't know the exact date of his birth, then he may or may not have been born on December 25th. Personally, I don't think it matters a lot. Especially in this case, because it's simply not true that all these figures were reputedly born on the same date. That was a fiction put about by the Zeitgeist movie.

  3. Let peoples know all over the word, some are ignorant.