- 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. 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. 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.” The earliest stories of Adonis report no death or resurrection and the “resurrection” of Adonis is not recorded until after A.D. 150. 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).”
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.” 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.
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.
 Yamauchi, Edwin M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History. Available from: >http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html. Accessed January 22, 2007.
 Weston, Jessie. Ritual to Romance.
 Habermas, Gary. Mike Licona. The Case For the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications: 2004. pg. 90.
 Yamauchi, Edwin M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History.
 Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough. Available from: >http://www.bartleby.com/196/79.html. Accessed May 22, 2007.
© Mary Jo Sharp 2007