I want to thank my friend and co-worker, Jon Sorensen for writing the following article. It was originally published in Catholic Answers Magazine Nov-Dec 2012 edition. Because of the length of the article I will divide it into two parts:
Many atheists, neo-pagans, and other disbelievers of Christianity claim the story of Jesus Christ was borrowed from earlier mythologies. In recent years, a claim has been making the rounds that Jesus is based on the Egyptian god, Horus.
Who was Horus?
Horus is one of the oldest recorded deities in the ancient Egyptian religion. Often depicted as a falcon or a man with a falcon head, Horus was believed to be the god of the sun and of war. Initially he appeared as a local god, but over time the ancient Egyptians came to believe the reigning pharaoh was a manifestation of Horus (cf. Encyclopedia Britannica, “Horus”).
What about Jesus?
The skeptical claims being made about Jesus are not always the same. In some versions he was a persuasive teacher whose followers later attempted to deify him by adopting aspects of earlier god-figures, while in others he is merely an amalgamation of myths and never really existed at all. Both versions attempt to provide evidence that the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ are rip-offs.
In the 2008 documentary film Religulous (whose name is a combination of religion andridiculous), erstwhile comedian and political commentator Bill Maher confronts an unprepared Christian with this claim. Here is part of their interaction.
Bill Maher: But the Jesus story wasn’t original.
Christian man: How so?
Maher: Written in 1280 B.C., the Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.” Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected.
Maher is only repeating things that are and believed by many people today. Similar claims are made in movies such as Zeitgeist and Religulous and in pseudo-academic books such as Christ in Egypt: The Jesus-Horus Connection and Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth.
Often Christians are not prepared for this type of encounter, and some are even swayed by this line of argumentation. Maher’s tirade provides a good summary of the claims, so let’s deconstruct it, one line at a time.
Written in 1280 BC, the Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus.
In fact, there are many “books of the dead.” But there is no single, official Book of the Dead. The books are collections of ancient Egyptian spells that were believed to help the deceased on their journey to the afterlife.
The title Book of the Dead comes from an Arabic label referring to the fact that the books were mostly found with mummies (cf. The Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, “Funerary Literature”). Some of these texts contain vignettes depicting the god Horus, but they don’t tell us much about him.
Our information about Horus comes from a variety of archaeological sources. What we do know from the most recent scholarship on the subject is that there were many variations of the story, each of them popularized at different times and places throughout the 5,000-year span of ancient Egyptian history.
Egyptologists recognize the possibility that these differences may have been understood as aspects or facets of the same divine persona, but they nevertheless refer to them as distinct Horus-gods (cf. The Oxford Guide to Egyptian Mythology, “Horus”).
Part of the problem with the “Jesus is Horus” claim is that in order to find items that even partially fit the life story of Jesus, advocates of the view must cherry-pick bits of myth from different epochs of Egyptian history.
This is possible today because modern archaeology has given us extensive knowledge of Egypt’s religious beliefs and how they changed over time, making it possible to cite one detail from this version of a story and another from that.
But the early Christians, even if they had wanted to base the Gospels on the Horus myths, would have had no way to do so.
They might have known what was believed about Horus in the Egypt of their day, but they would have had no access to the endless variations of the stories that laid buried in the sands until archaeologists started digging them up in the 1800s.
Tomorrow we will look at, and debunk, 9 supposed parallels between Jesus and Horus.
Be sure to check out Jon’s blog!