Thanks to conspiracy theorists like D M Murdock and films like Zeitgeist a new way of looking at Jesus Christ is becoming increasingly popular. Rather then viewing Jesus as a real historical figure, as most historians both theist and atheist do, these mythicists propose that Jesus was actually drawn from older sources entirely. Most commonly they try to tie him to Buddha, Krishna, and Horus. These theories while appealing to many are generally linked to a fundamental misunderstanding of the historical evidence for Christ and of the religious figures he’s linked to.
Despite popular misconception the Bible is not the only record to mention Jesus Christ. Romans, Jews and the early Christian leaders all wrote of the apostles and Jesus each treating him as a historical figure. In particular the writings of Josephus, Pliny the Younger and Tacitus support the case for Christ within the 1st and second century as does the Babylonian Talmud (which was written between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD). In particular Tacitus mentions the man known as Christus and that he was put to death by Pontius Pilate (Annals Book 15, Chapter 44). This is particularly important because Tacitus was an outspoken critic of the Christian religion who had no reason to support a known lie. Josephus mentions Jesus twice in his Jewish Antiquities (in 18 and 20) while the first is generally thought to have been altered by Christians later most historians agree both were based on something in Josephus’s original writings (http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm). Between these and the gospels themselves the evidence strongly supports Jesus as a historical figure and most arguments against are based on insisting the above sources were either forged (of which evidence only exists in the case of the one Josephus passage) or simply based on Christian belief (unlikely given Josephus, Pliny and Tacitus were outspoken critics of Christianity). Add to this the writings of the first and second century church father’s and it’s easy to see why historian E.P. Sanders (a historian and an atheist) wrote:
“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know” pgs 279-280. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. Moreover, a calculated deception should have produced great unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’ Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.” Pgs. 279-280. “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it.” Pg 280. (E.P. Sanders: The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books, 1993)
Aside from the historical evidence the claims of his similarities to various other deities are usually unfounded and easily refuted by someone with even a basic understanding of the belief systems involved. Of the deities chosen Horus is one of the oldest and most popular. The popular belief goes that Horus was born of a virgin, was a sun god (thus equating sun and son), had 12 apostles and died to be resurrected after three days. The problem is it’s not accurate. Horus’s mother was the Egyptian goddess Isis and the most obvious flaw in the explanation is that at the time Horus was conceived, Isis was already married to Osiris. While Osiris had been killed by his brother Set accounts diverge on whether Isis had conceived Horus before this event or after she had found the scattered body parts (the legends do agree the penis was missing and she used a combination of wood and magic to substitute for it). While it’s been speculated (and in some later Isis cults she was considered a virgin) there is no direct reference in the earlier Egyptian myths to her being a virgin. The other connections his apostles, his supposed crucifixion and resurrection, his Baptist by Anup (a figure that doesn’t actually appear in Egyptian mythology) are all made up (granted these go back to the 19th century rather then being modern inventions) and appear in no older sources. Even the claim he was a sun god is wrong as Ra was the god of the sun not Horus.
Another common choice is the Greek god Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Again the story goes that Dionysus was born of a virgin, was the only begotten son, preformed miracles and rose from the dead. Setting aside the enormous differences between Dionysus worship and Christianity (Dionysus worshipers were known for their orgies of sex and violence his maenads in particular were famous for whipping themselves into a frenzy and tearing people limb from limb) the story is a fabrication. Dionysus was born of the Greek God Zeus and the human Semele. For a start it wasn’t a virgin birth she and Zeus had sex. She then, with some influence from Zeus’s jealous wife Hera, convinced the God into granting her one request and made the fatal mistake of asking to see him in his full glory. When this killer her Zeus sewed Dionysus into his thigh until he was fully grown giving the god the title of twice born. The next most obvious flaw in this theory is Zeus had MANY other children (Hercules, Apollo, Hephaestus, Aretmis, etc) so Dionysus was not the only begotten son. Finally while it is true that various miracles are associated with Dionysus his followers were primarily women (unlike Christ) and his miracles were often curses laid on his enemies (like turning the entire crew of a sailing vessel into dolphins). Again the similarities don’t stand up to a legitimate examination of the mythology.
The last to consider is the Buddha. This is probably the most understandable of the comparisons as similarities have often been noted between the two men’s teachings. Again Buddha is claimed to have been born of a virgin, to have spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil (Mara in this case), to have taught love and to have ascended to Heaven upon his death and he will one day return. Again this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Buddhist teachings. Buddha, real name Siddhartha Gautama, was born to a Brahmin caste family (no implication of a virgin birth his parents were again married and nothing in the histories suggest his birth was supernatural. He did meditate under a Bodhi tree, although not in the desert, where he was tempted by Mara, the lord of desire although he serves a valuable purpose in Buddhist belief and is not Satan, rather then wandering in the desert as with Christ. Also saying he ascended to Heaven on death represents a major failure to grasp the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Nirvana is not simply a place a person goes after death it is a mental and spiritual state they attain during their own life. It is the denial of desire and ego that carries on into an afterlife free of the reincarnation Buddhists believe all humans go through.
There are of course other pagan gods and figures that supposedly got a face lift to become Jesus Christ (Mithras, Julius Caesar, Krishna, and Zoroaster are probably the most common) but they all exhibit the same characteristics. The first is that these conspiracy theories twist and misinterpret these figures to make them fit Jesus Christ. Not only does this ignore the historical evidence that Jesus himself was a real figure it shows a considerable contempt for the other belief systems involved.
Sources on Jesus as a historical figure:
Sources on Horus:
Sources on Dionysus:
Sources on Buddha: