Tuesday, May 22, 2007

“Resurrection” Myths vs. Resurrection of Jesus - Tammuz and Adonis

- This is the first in a series of posts on resurrection myths by Mary Jo

Was the story of Jesus’ resurrection unique in the first century or did other written accounts of resurrections like Jesus’ exist before or during the time period of the New Testament writings? This is an important question to answer since it is at the root of an objection to Christianity’s claims of uniqueness. Over the course of the next couple of posts, I will look at other resurrection claims and the evidence surrounding those claims versus the evidence surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. Although, throughout these short posts do I in no way intend to accomplish a full treatment of this subject matter. Instead, I will lay down very minimal facts and point to other sources.

The Mystery Cults

Skepticism about the uniqueness of Christianity’s resurrection claim can be read in writings such as The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer (1906), Hellenistic Ways of Deliverance and the Making of the Christian Synthesis by John H. Randall (1970), and Those Incredible Christians by Hugh Schonfield (1968). However, upon a closer examination of the available source documents, it is shown that much of the written record of the mystery cults comes to us from the second to fourth century A.D. The appearances of “resurrections” in these myths do not emerge in their writings until after the resurrection accounts of the New Testament.

The Cult of Tammuz

Mesopotamian – Tammuz
Sumerian – Dumuzi
Phoenician - Adonis

The cult of Tammuz can be traced back to around 3000 B.C, and has a Babylonian-Sumerian origination.[1] Tammuz was allegedly resurrected by the goddess Inanna-Ishtar. Tammuz’s resurrection is “alleged” because the end of both the Sumerian and the Akkadian texts of the myth of "The Descent of Inanna (Ishtar)" had not been preserved. The story actually states that Dumuzi (Tammuz) did not return from death to an earthly life, but was placed in the underworld as a substitution for Inanna.[2] Apparently, there is only fragmentary evidence that Dumuzi had his sister take his place in the underworld for half of the year. Even so, the story of Tammuz is not like the resurrection story of Jesus. However, let’s take a brief look at Adonis.

The cult of Adonis has possibly been linked to the same parent deity of the cult of Tammuz. According to Jessie Weston in Ritual to Romance, “…the worship of the divinity we know as Adonis, may, under another name, reach back to an antiquity equal with that we can now ascribe to the cult of Tammuz.”[3] The earliest stories of Adonis report no death or resurrection and the “resurrection” of Adonis is not recorded until after A.D. 150.[4] Edwin M. Yamauchi, professor of history at Miami University, Ohio, in his article Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History states, “P. Lambrechts has shown that there is no trace of a resurrection in the early texts or pictorial representations of Adonis; the four texts that speak of his resurrection are quite late, dating from the second to the fourth centuries A.D. ("La 'resurrection' d'Adonis," in Melanges Isidore Levy, 1955, pp. 207-40).”[5]

The story of Adonis’ death is not similar to that of the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. Adonis was mortally wounded by a wild boar. As described in Frazer’s The Golden Bough, “At last the fair youth was killed in hunting by a wild boar, or by the jealous Ares, who turned himself into the likeness of a boar in order to compass the death of his rival.”[6] Adonis, according to the story, was eventually given to Persephone, goddess of death, for part of the year, and to Aphrodite, goddess of love for the other. This is not a picture of a god dying for the sins of the world and being resurrected to new life that all people may partake in.

When comparing the stories of Tammuz, Dumuzi, and Adonis with the resurrection stories of Jesus, these stories only demonstrate strained similarities (in that they speak of the death and life of a being). It is also not likely the New Testament writers were mimicking later writings of dying and rising gods due to the second century appearance of the “resurrection” in the myths.

Mary Jo

Note: Please check referenced documents for further documentation. Articles quoted have many more sources than provided here.

For Further Reading:

Metzger, Bruce. Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. Available from: http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/mystery_religions_early_christianity.htm Accessed January 22, 2007.

Nash, Ronald. Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions? Available from: http://www.equip.org/free/DB109.htm Accessed January 22, 2007.

Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough. Available from: http://www.bartleby.com/196/79.html Accessed May 22, 2007.


1 Weston, Jessie. From Ritual to Romance. Chapter IV: Tammuz and Adonis. Available from: www.sacred-texts.com/neu/frr/frr07.htm#fn_39>http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/frr/frr07.htm#fn_39. The Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed May 22, 2007.

[2] Yamauchi, Edwin M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History. Available from: >http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html. Accessed January 22, 2007.

[3] Weston, Jessie. Ritual to Romance.

[4] Habermas, Gary. Mike Licona. The Case For the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications: 2004. pg. 90.

[5] Yamauchi, Edwin M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History.

[6] Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough. Available from: >http://www.bartleby.com/196/79.html. Accessed May 22, 2007.

© Mary Jo Sharp 2007


Andrew Schaeffer said...

Even if there were many Christ's-resurrection-like stories before the time of Christ (though I haven't investigated this myself), The Christian resurrection story can still be unique. This is possible if the Christian resurrection story is true and the others false. In more practical terms, if the Christian resurrection story carries more evidence for it being actually true than any other resurrection story, there is indeed a uniqueness to the Christian resurrection story. That is, one story is more probably true than all the others.

Two Chix Apologetics said...


Hello! Your comment is very interesting to me. I did stress the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus in my post. I am intending to show that Christianity did not get the story of the resurrection through borrowing from pre-existing resurrection stories of the mystery cults.


Steven Carr said...

Presumably the story of Tammuz is also unique.

Out of curiosity, why did Jesus liken John the Baptist to Elijah when Elijah didn't die, but ascended to Heaven and also worked miracles.

Surely this disqualifies any parallels between Elijah and JtB, just as surely as your excellent analysis disqualifies any parallels between Tammuz and Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus was one of these people suffering from 'parallel-o-mania'?

Joshua Douglas Blanchard said...

It's somewhat odd to me that in contemporary American apologetics there is a resistance to historical claims according to non-historical principles. In fact, the "uniqueness" aspect of the resurrection of Jesus is not even a Biblical principle, as far as I can tell. Where does the New Testament even suggest that people before Jesus haven't claimed a resurrection-like story?

Aside from the bizarreness of the worry itself, it's interesting that one could plausibly take the opposite approach and embrace the parallels in argument. C.S. Lewis did something like this in his whole career, and especially in his book Miracles. His point was that there are common themes in the religions of mankind, and this is evidence of a single source. He also (notoriously for some) called the resurrection "myth become fact." This conception, spurred on by conversations with Tolkien, was actually the catalyst for his conversion.

Two Chix Apologetics said...


I agree that there is one common source to these similarities: God. But I do not agree to a culturally relative experience of God that could be implied by your statement; this relativism would look like something to the effect of "All religions are expressions of the same God."

My purpose in these posts will be to specifically address the objection to the resurrection of Jesus that his disciples and the writers of the New Testament were borrowing from other ancient written myths. This is a particular objection that has been asked of me. Therefore, I am attempting to show that the resurrection story, specific to the N.T., is a unique story; not a borrowed story. There are many implications concerning the uniqueness of this resurrection story (we can go into those if you want). If Jesus Christ is the only founder of a faith-structure that has been raised from the dead, this uniqueness requires an explanation.

What do you mean to say here: there is a resistance to historical claims according to non-historical principles. Are you discussing particular arguments of particular Christian apologists? What are they?

Where does the New Testament even suggest that people before Jesus haven't claimed a resurrection-like story?

What would be acceptable evidence for you on this point?


Joshua Douglas Blanchard said...

1) "But I do not agree to a culturally relative experience of God..."
Why not? It's long been held in the mainstream of Christian philosophy that there is general revelation to be had by all. This will no doubt be experienced in different ways by different people according to their presuppositions, ideological lenses, etc. We need not believe that all these experiences are epistemically equal, and can easily hold that the specific special revelation in the person of Jesus is magnitudes greater than any of these other distorted versions of the religions of man.

The objection that the NT authors were borrowing has zero connection to whether or not the story is unique, so I would recommend a different strategy. Sure, if it the NT is unique then it's not borrowed. But it can be similar to other stories (like Lewis says) without having been "borrowed." When the altar to the unknown God was discovered in Acts no one said, "You're borrowing from something else, shame on you." Instead, the message was that their small knowledge needed to be elucidated. The same can go for the story of Jesus (except in the reverse of course, where Jesus is doing the elucidating).

2) With the non-historical principles side-comment I was just referring to the strange desire to investigate history for purely apologetic, not historical, purposes. So we have some doctrine regarding the uniqueness of Jesus, and then therefore object to historical counter-claims. But then, anyone can just deny this attribution of intellectually dishonest motive, so I suppose there's nothing to say here.

3) I'm a little confused by your question as to what would count as evidence to me regarding whether or not the New Testament asserts uniqueness about the resurrection claim itself. Obviously a textual citation would be great. But as far as I can tell, no one in the NT suggests that an advantage to the Jesus story is that no one else has ever claimed something like it before. To me, it's just totally irrelevant whether or not people claims things prior to the things actually happening. Take for example a scientific discovery. If someone claims to have discovered X but it hasn't really been discovered yet, that doesn't count as evidence against the eventual real discovery of X.

Ultimately neither of us are bothered by the objection from past myths, but just for different reasons. Hopefully what I've said is clear, and sets out well how I would respond to the objection.

Two Chix Apologetics said...

Presumably the story of Tammuz is also unique.

You need support in order to qualify this statement.

Surely this disqualifies any parallels between Elijah and JtB, just as surely as your excellent analysis disqualifies any parallels between Tammuz and Jesus.

JtB vs. Elijah does not equal or invalidate Tammuz vs. Jesus.

Perhaps on the surface take of these parallelisms, there could be somewhat interesting-looking connections. However, the more research I do of these "parallelisms", the more I find historians do not give them much credit...some literary form of the Old Testament seems to be the parallelism; not conception. Cyrus H. Gordon states that ancient Judaism achieved the highest ethical code of the ancient world, unlike any of its predecessors...yes, including the Code of Hammurabi (Hammurapi).

Also interesting to note, the ancient historians do not see similarities(Tacitus and Dio Cassius); in fact, they acknowledge the vast difference.


eliyahu said...

There are more than just a few similarities between Tammuz and Jesus.
Mutual pagan characteristics of Jesus and Tammuz both of which are not of the Hebrew messiah:
1 Celebrated birthdays Dec.25th
2 Cross a symbol of worship (research tau and symbol of Tammuz, Baal Gad) Read Hosea 2:15 to 17 Concorde definition at side will tell you Baal=Lord
3 Day set apart for worship-SUNday>changed from the seventh day and violates the fourth commandment which scriptures say and indicate throughout is a sign between the creator and his people for all eternity.
4 As is with Lent, a time of mourning, a weeping for Tammuz.
5 A celebration called Easter (fertility rites to Ishtar. Goddess associated with Tammuz) reason for use of eggs and bunnies as symbols of fertility) > obscures Passover and the significance of the redeeming blood of messiah.

Tammuz has much more in common with Jesus than the real Hebrew messiah whose name was and is Yahushua which means both Yahu’s salvation and I AM salvation in Hebrew. Jesus is a name fabricated by men and is 600 years old more or less, as is the letter J. Jesus is a time and culture crossing version of Tammuz and an imposter of the Devil.Like it is said he decieves the whole world.
The Talmudic Priests of messiahs time here made it a death crime to say the name of his father that he professed and came in and the organizations of men still hide it and messiahs true character from you. You will think me of the Devil as the priests accused him of but I know whom is really being deceived by the men they look to for spiritual salvation. The ways of men and the world are soon to pass.

I will tell you as Yahushua told the priests of his day, “you worship you know not what” and “ you have taken the covenant of Yahuah and changed it into the traditions and laws of man”. As are the ways of corruptible men we have a replay of events. Google Yahuah and Yahusuah and may his set apart spirit be in you if you choose to seek his truths. If his spirit intends to save you then welcome to the reemergence of Israel after many generations of deception and having gone a whoring with the Lords of the world.

oluwatoyin d j said...

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely unique among others. His resurrection was the greatest of all in that Him alone has resurrected only to live forever and never to die again. The Holy Bible says He is the head of the church: who is the beginning, the first born from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence (colossians 1:18). Also, the account of His life after resurrection is written in book of Acts 1:1-10 of which He was taken up while a cloud received Him out of the sight of the people so as to show the power of His resurrection and the victory over death.

Heather Z said...

Those who want to argue the issues of "unique" vs "similar" and myths that have gods die and ressurect back to life (possessing flesh) were in existance BEFORE Jesus' ressurection are showing that they have not understood the context of what they read. Prove that "similar" and "unique" are synonymous, or that there are documents dating BEFORE 30AD that have a god die and ressurect possessing flesh and bone after atoning for the sins of the world. The very idea of bodily ressurection to ancient peoples was offensive, they aspired to move up into the spirit realm. So after knowing that, what ancient myth would even come close to Jesus' gospel prior to its revelation in the 30's AD? In other words, who is copying who? Oh and the Catholic religion is not pure Christianity, it's a syncratic mess, an unholy mixing of Babylonian mystery religion with biblical faith, which is far worse than any of the "honest" ancient myths of false religions.