This week, Lance asked,
Have you posted or tackled much regarding all the parrallels of Jesus, Horus and Dionysus (or others if they exist)? This has come up twice recently for me and is never discussed here in Texas, or in my Pentecostal heritage “Questions that Haunt” popped in my head. Not only would I be interested in the historical contexts but I am wondering if there’s anything that also talks about how these gods were worshipped and anything about the followers. I’m always curious to know WHY people believe what they do more than anything else.
In a follow-up comment, he expanded,
Somehow, this question grew into something more for me. I began to wonder, as one has already said, what are the impacts on our belief system, even if there are mythological influences on our Bible? What would that mean to our faith? This has me thinking, what is it that we’re called to “Believe”? Is belief simply determining if we agree there was a Historical Jesus? What did Jesus mean when he said “Believe in Me”? If I ask someone to believe in me, I’m not asking them to make some sort of mental decision to accept the narrative of my life. I’m asking something else entirely, and I wonder if Jesus was asking the same. Someone commented about how the teachings of Jesus have no parallel to any of the other gods. The messages of hope, love, mercy, forgiveness…, all much unlike other ancient (and I assume often barbaric) religions. Is this the problem with unbelief, in that we’ve all been conditioned to believe in the wrong thing? Are we to put our faith in a history lesson or as my nephew would complain, use faith to fill in the historical gaps and contradictions? Or is faith meant to be placed in the message?
The latter seems more appropriate to me. More life giving. More substantive. and has me looking at a number of Scriptures with another perspective in mind.
Thanks, Lance. Here’s my response:
A few years ago, I had a stock part of talks that I would give on “Christ and Church and Culture,” something I’ve been asked to speak on frequently. I put up an image of the cast of American Idol, and baldly stated: “Ryan Seacrest is the messiah figure on American Idol.”
I went on to explain my theory that Simon Cowell was clearly the Lucifer character, and Randy and Paula were demons under his command. But Ryan, dear Ryan, was something else entirely. When contestants emerged from their moments of temptation and trial, Ryan was waiting outside the door. If they held a victorious yellow ticket, he celebrated with them. If they emerged ticketless and fell to the floor sobbing, he would pick them up. I’m talking literally, not figuratively. Ryan would pick up those who had fallen and comfort them and their family members — even the contestants who had clearly made it to the judging room solely because they were hilarious freaks.
For centuries — maybe since humans have had the ability to communicate — literature and culture has been rife with messiah figures. Indeed, the genius of René Girard is that he recognized this trait in his study of literature, and he saw the trajectory changing as societies became less primitive.
But whether primitive or advanced, the desire for a messiah is universal to humankind. Every religion has one, and virtually every novel and film has one.
There are clearly parallels between Jesus and Dionysus. And between Jesus and Horus. And between Jesus and Ryan Seacrest. But if you dig a bit into the literature, you’ll see that everyone from Bart Ehrman to Bill Maher have really overblown the parallels. Just as you may think I have done with Jesus/Seacrest.
The details in any of these parallels don’t match. But the archetypes do, and that’s what I find most interesting.
The difference between Jesus and these others is that Jesus fulfills all of the characteristics of the archetype. In fact, Jesus is the archetype. In his death and resurrection, Jesus does everything that humans have always longed for a messiah to do.
So it does not surprise me that we see messianic parallels between Jesus and other religious figures, and neither does it challenge my faith. In fact, it only substantiates what we sing on Christmas: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
When it comes to your latter comment/question, Lance, it seems that you’ve already come to the same conclusion as me: The message, and Jesus’ fulfillment of our hope and need of a messiah, is what’s most important.