09 Apr Resurrection #4: How Did Ancient Pagans View the Afterlife?
Noted historian and professor Edwin Yamauchi has spoken to this matter with great clarity based upon his lifetime of scholarly research.28 Yamauchi has said that there is no possibility that the idea of a resurrection was borrowed because there is no definitive evidence for the teaching of a deity resurrection in any of the mystery religions prior to the second century.29 In fact, it seems that other religions and spiritualities stole the idea of a resurrection from Christians! For example, the resurrection of Adonis is not spoken of until the second to fourth centuries.30 Attis, the consort of Cybele, is not referred to as a resurrected god until after AD 150.31
Some have postulated that the taurobolium ritual of Attis and Mithra, the Persian god, is the source of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection. In this ritual, the initiate was put in a pit, and a bull was slaughtered on a grating over him, drenching him with blood. However, the earliest this ritual is mentioned is AD 160, and the belief that it led to rebirth is not mentioned until the fourth century. In fact, Princeton scholar Bruce Metzger has argued that the taurobolium was said to have the power to confer eternal life only after it encountered Christianity.32
The myths of pagans are admittedly fictitious events centered on the annual death and rebirth of vegetation and harvest cycles. Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is put forth as a historical fact in a place, at a time, with eyewitnesses and numerable lines of compelling evidence. Furthermore, not only is the theory that Christianity borrowed the concept of resurrection untrue, but it also completely ignores the historical facts of the empty tomb and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever known a Christian who was preparing to die? How did their belief in Jesus’ resurrection change their view of death?
28. Yamauchi has immersed himself in no less than twenty-two languages and is an expert in ancient his- tory, including Old Testament history and biblical archaeology, with an emphasis on the interrelationship between ancient near Eastern cultures and the Bible. He is widely regarded as an expert in ancient history, early church history, and Gnosticism. He has published over eighty articles in more than three dozen scholarly journals and has been awarded eight fellowships. His writing includes contributing chapters to multiple books as well as books on Greece, Babylon, Persia, and ancient Africa.
29. Edwin Yamauchi, “Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History?” Christianity Today, March 15, 1974 and March 29, 1974, 4–7, 12–16.
32. See Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 174–75; and Bruce M. Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1968), 11.