I should have known better. While the name of our shared friend lent some credence to the tale, it's obvious that the whole this is too sensationalistic and improbable to be true. It's what used to be called a tall tale, a yarn, a cock-and-bull story. Yet, even though I found it fascinating, the legend didn't spread much beyond our conversation. However, now that social media has been implanted into our circulatory systems, we're much more apt to spread such fertilizer in our interactions with others.
The Horus-Jesus Myth: What's the Connection?Such is the case with the "Jesus is a copy of pagan myths" trope that seems to be gathering steam in many atheist circles. Some of this has to do with the popularity of the YouTube video Zeitgeist, where the first third of the video tries to compare Jesus and several demi-gods worshipped prior to Jesus's birth. Near the beginning, the narrator makes this claim:
Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God's Annointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected.Richard Carrier also believes that resurrection stories were "wildly popular among the pagans" and begat a something akin to the standard trope, with the Gospels simply following in this tradition:
These attributes of Horus, whether original or not, seem to permeate in many cultures of the world, for many other gods are found to have the same general mythological structure.1
Among pagans, genuine sons of god who had to be murdered, buried, and then miraculously resurrected from the dead in order to judge and rule from heaven on high as our divine saviors were actually a common fad of the time, not a shocking novelty at all. Osirus and Romulus were widely worshipped to the tune of such sacred stories demonstrably before the rise of Christianity, and similar stories surrounded other dying-and-rising gods long before such as Zalmoxis, Adonis, and Inanna.2
The Horus-Jesus Myth: Be CriticalJust like the stolen kidney story, the Horus-Jesus connection myth has much of what makes an urban legend appealing: a moral tale that shows how one's gullibility can result in one being taken in with serious consequences, the authoritative yet undefined source, a set of facts that on the surface are seemingly plausible, and the ability to shock others with a sensational revelation. Yet, just like the stolen kidney story, all you need to do is to think a bit and the paper-thin claims of Jesus's stolen resurrection will quickly melt away. Here are five points to consider:
1) Look for Loaded Language
Notice in the Zeitgeist story, all the terms used are ones taken from Christianity. Horus is called a "messiah" and was "baptized." He had "disciples" and a "ministry." All of these terms bias the listener because they are Jewish or Christian concepts. The Egyptians would never use these words to refer to their religious rites. The word messiah had a very specific meaning to the Jews, including being a descendant of David. It wasn't any political figure. Christianity teaches that believers are baptized only once, not simply a pre-religious washing ceremony. By mislabeling other deities with Christian terms, the listener is deluded into believing the similarities are closer than they really are.
2) Ask "Can I read the source of these myths?"
The single easiest way to debunk these supposed parallel accounts of Jesus and Horus are to simply ask for the source text of the myths themselves. Just as the stolen kidney tale can't be verified since it comes from "a friend of a friend," so you'll find that the ancient tales that supposedly parallels the life of Jesus are an extended form of hearsay. In fact, all these claims are usually committing the same sin many atheists claim the Gospels commit: they are more like a game of telephone than real texts.
Interestingly, if anyone actually bothers to look up the source texts, a very different picture arises. For Horus, there's no mention at all of twelve disciples, three king visitations, and death by crucifixion and the three day entombment. In fact, Horus was stung by a scorpion and a magic incantation by the god of wisdom, Thoth, purges the venom from his body. This all happens while Horus was a young child, well before his adulthood and battle for the throne. It's nothing like Jesus's resurrection at all.3
3) Ask "What do you mean by "resurrection?"
There's a significant difference between Jesus's resurrection and what you read in the ancient myths. Osirus, according to a late tradition recorded in the first century AD by the Roman Plutarch, was cut into fourteen pieces by his nemesis Typhon and they were scattered all along the Nile. Osirus's wife Isis was able to gather thirteen of those to reassemble her husband. The tale tells us that unfortunately Osirus's sexual organ was eaten by fish and so Isis assembled another out of gold in order for Osirus to impregnate her with Horus. Osirus, since he will never be a complete being again, now resides as the god of the underworld.4
4) Ask "What do you mean by virgin birth?"
Certainly, given the events above, calling Horus's conception a virgin birth strains the idea to its breaking point. Other fables, such as Zeus impregnating Semele with Dionysus. He had physical relations with her even though she couldn't see him. Zeus took Dionysus as a fetus and sewed him into his thigh and from there Dionysus was born. To say the virgin birth stories should be considered comparable is itself laughable.
5) Ask "Just which calendar were they using in ancient Egypt?"
Lastly, the claims of December 25th are completely erroneous. Many myths don't specify any date at all for the birth of the deities (again, read the originals!) For Horus, Plutarch tells us he was born "about the time of the winter solstice… imperfect and premature."5 Beside the fact that Plutarch mixed many Greek ideas with the Egyptian myths, it is a huge stretch to assume an exact date for Horus's birth. Taking Plutarch's account, the term "about the time of the winter solstice" can be a swing of weeks in either direction. But if the Egyptians wanted to be more precise and attach Horus with the solstice, then his birthday would be the 21/22 of December in the modern calendar, not the 25th. As I've explained before, Jesus's actual birth is not known, and celebrating Christmas on December 25 has nothing to do with the winter solstice whatsoever.
There are other ideas you should have at the ready as well. For more suggestions, see here and here. But it should be evident by now that the supposed evidence of Christianity's plagiarism of earlier myths is itself based on myths and contrivances. Those that offer such views attempt to paint a picture that doesn't exist. Don't let these organ thieves steal your brain. Challenge them to think.
2. Carrier, Richard. "Christianity's Success Was Not Incredible". The End of Christianity, John Loftus, Ed. (New York: Prometheus Books, 2011). 59.
3. Budge, E. A Wallis. " The Legend of the Death of Horus - II.--The Narrative of Isis " Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner, 1912. 170-196. Print. Online text available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg28.htm
4. Budge "The History of Isis and Osiris -Section XVIII." 224-226. Web. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/leg/leg46.htm
5. Plutarch. Isis and Osiris. Loeb Classical Library ed. Vol. V. N.p.: Loeb, 1936. Bill Thayer's Web Site. University of Chicago, 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Isis_and_Osiris*/D.html.