QUESTION: I have had conversations with people telling me that the story of the Savior and a virgin birth is a story that has been told in different forms for millennia in other religions predating Jesus. Same story with different players. For example, I heard in the popular “Zeitgeist” Youtube movie that the Egyptian god Horus was born on December 25 of a virgin: Isis Mary, and that he was supposedly crucified and resurrected after three days.
ANSWER: The “Didn’t Christianity just borrow from other religions all its main features?” is an old question and mostly been thoroughly debunked a long time ago – like, in the 1890’s long time ago. But in the age of the Internet you get a lot of skeptics swallowing these theories or passing them on without critically looking at the counter arguments.
“How do you know that?”, is a really great question to use when faced with the bald assertion that Christianity is merely a profane bit of religious plagiarism and totally untrue. It leads to a search for original sources, not assertion-filled rants.
I’ll answer your question fairly briefly and give you some examples, but I won’t answer all the claims made in the Zeitgeist movie for example. So, I’ll link you to two more in-depth answers, the second of which links to sources to help you do a deep dive on this if you want.
Basically, all the alleged comparisons between Christianity and other mystery cults of the ancient world break down due to the following four factors:
A – the “common” feature is totally exaggerated (like the cult of Mithras allegedly doing baptism before Christians, when their “baptism” was putting the initiate in a pit and gutting a bull over him, spilling the guts and blood – ya, not the same thing!, or like Mithras is said to have had 12 disciples, but all we really have is one carving where Mithras is shown surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac, etc.)
B – the cultic feature actually POST-dated Christianity and so was borrowed from it rather than the other way around (like the mystery cults having love feasts, or baptizing chairs and houses – something we only know about AFTER Christianity was growing and popular, not before.)
C – the feature is indicative of some other feature common to a lot of religions and regions (like celebrating the Sun God’s “birth” on winter solstice [around December 25th] which was an important date for all agrarian cultures, including the Jews; or Mithras having 12 disciples, when 12 was an important number all over in the ancient world, a lot of culture’s math was in a base 12 system, and the 12 signs of the zodiac were very old etc.)
D – the story of Jesus stands or falls on the evidence for the validity of the testimony about him, regardless if that story has some features that correspond to other religions or myths or not. Turns out, the evidence that a real man, Jesus, really lived and really was crucified under Pontius Pilate is one of the most well attested facts of the ancient world. So, if we have good evidence for that, then his story stands even if features of that story correspond to fables and myths and mystery religions. Of course, when you read them those other stories have a very distinct “once upon a time” feel, and the NT starts out in serious history, as Luke will begin,
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” (3:1,2) etc.
Here’s a deeper answer on this question from gotquestions.org:
Here’s another response on this from a Catholic site with links to non-Christian sources: