Did early Christians borrow ideas from pagan cults to form the basis of the Christian beliefs?
There were stories in the ancient world about gods dying and rising again. Is it possible that the founders of Christianity just invented a story about a deity, Christ, who also did these things? Is that how the story of the death and resurrection of Christ came to be written? Was the story of Christ just another legend like one of these stories?
There are big differences between these stories and the story of Jesus Christ. These pagan stories were always related as things that happened “once upon a time”. They were legends, usually inspired by the cycles of the four seasons in nature. The story of Christ’s death was quite different. Names of kings like Herod and procurators like Pontius Pilate were mentioned. Historical characters were involved in the drama. Remember that Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Herod and others were historical figures referred to by major historians of the first century.
If we know anything about the early days of Christianity, we know that it began amongst Jewish people. Jewish people were monotheistic by strict upbringing. One reason Jews have been so persecuted over the centuries is that no matter where in the world they are, they see themselves as a separate people and strongly resist pagan ideas and rituals. It is therefore unlikely that Jews would borrow from pagan sources to form a new religion – and then go on to risk their lives for their ideas which they knew to be merely their own inventions.
One of the most influential apostles of Christianity was Paul, who was known as Saul before his conversion. Paul was brought up according to the strictest sect of the Pharisees. He knew this, and so did those Jews who later persecuted him for his faith in Christ. Paul mentioned this point in front of a crowd of his own countrymen who wanted to put him to death for his preaching of Christ. You see, the Jewish people were very zealous for the purity of their faith. They did not take kindly to new religious ideas which contradicted their traditional ways of thinking. Paul was one of them before he turned to Christ. He was on his way with letters from the high priest authorizing him to persecute the followers of Jesus in Damascus, when suddenly he is knocked to the ground, sees a light, hears a voice, and claims to have encountered the reality of Jesus Christ as the Risen and Ascended Lord of the Universe? Is it reasonable to suppose that Paul just “decided” to borrow some ideas from pagan religions and then boldly proclaim these false ideas amongst people who could have easily checked out the facts for themselves concerning Christ? Is it reasonable to believe that so many Jews got together to invent stories about Christ dying and rising, being inspired by pagan mythologies? There were plenty of people around at the time who had a vested interest in destroying the early Christian communities which bowed neither to religious traditionalists nor to Caesar as Lord. It would have been so easy to do had the story of Jesus been nothing but a piece of borrowed mythology. But even Roman and Jewish historians acknowledged the historical existence of Christ, as well as his contempories such as Pontius Pilate and Herod. This doesn’t sound like a borrowed mythology to me.
The theory of borrowed paganism just doesn’t explain the historical data. It is only believed and taken seriously by those who have already made up their minds that they want to ignore Christ and His claims on their lives.