Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Pagan Parallels

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays

 

The origins of Christianity and the original customs thereof come not from pagans. They come from the Holy Bible and ancient Hebrew thought.

 

Pagan Parallels

When it comes to “pagan parallels” we must use wisdom and discernment lest our desire to walk in the fear of the LORD ends up being superstition.

“To believe there is connection when there is none, is only superstition…by mixing facts and fables together, nearly anything can be made to appear “pagan.” {Babylon Connection? – Ralph Woodrow pg 109}

“Critics typically “cherry pick” from the mythological attributes of a variety of pagan gods and exaggerate the supposed similarities to construct a profile that is even vaguely similar to Jesus. Skeptics search for singular similarities to the Christ of the Bible and then assemble these similarities from a variety of gods spanning the centuries and originating in geographically diverse regions. Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical. There is no single prior mythology that is significantly similar to Jesus.”

“Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical.” {J. Warner Wallace, a ‘cold case Christianity investigator’}

Lincoln JFK parallel

 

Did you know John F. Kennedy was a character made up and based upon Abraham Lincoln? This, of course, is absurd, but what if this claim is made 200 years from now or 500 years? People 500 years from now could say that Americans were so intrigued with Abraham Lincoln that they made a character up named John F. Kennedy to ‘mirror’ Lincoln. When you compare the similarities, they are actually much stronger than the claims of those who say that Jesus was a made up character based upon previous sun-gods.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.
Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Both Presidents’ wives lost a child while living in the White House.
Both Presidents were shot while seated next to their wife. Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Both were shot in the head.

Lincoln’s personal secretary, whose name was John (Nicolay), advised him not to go to the theater.
Kennedy’s personal secretary, whose name was (Evelyn) Lincoln, advised him not to go to Dallas.

Both were assassinated by Southerners. Both were succeeded by Southerners. Both successors were named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.
Both names are comprised of fifteen letters.

Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater. Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
Lincoln was shot in the Ford Theatre and Kennedy was shot while in a Ford Lincoln.

For those who are convinced that the New Testament was written in a way to mix sun-god worship beliefs in regards to the pagan christs with the historical facts of Jesus, the same case can be made for virtually every important person/story in the TaNaKH (Old Testament). There are pagan “counterparts” to the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve, the serpent & the tree of knowledge, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Samson etc. So if one wants to proclaim the New Testament writings are full of pagan sun-god doctrine, then one must throw out the whole Bible because the same claim can be made against the TaNaKH (Old Testament).

If one wants to throw out Christian holidays such as Christmas & Easter because they supposedly look like pagan festivals then one would need to do the same to the Feast of Tabernacles. The Greek historian Plutarch supposed that the Jews worshiped Bacchus “because he had a feast of exactly the same kind called the feast of tabernacles, which they celebrated in the time of vintage, bringing tables out into the open air furnished with all kinds of fruit, and sitting under tents made of vine branches and ivy”.

The Roman author Pliny spoke of the Romans always giving their firstfruits to the priests to offer to the gods, in the same manner that Israel offered their first-fruits to God (Lev. 23:10). If we make the claim that Christians adopted pagan customs in their worship of God because of perceived similarities then we can also say the Jews adopted their customs from their neighbors as well.  This is of course, ridiculous, but we must use equal weights and measures when looking at the issue (Leviticus 19:36; Matthew 7:2).

We need to really examine what we accept as truth in order not to walk in hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

 

“To all my brothers and sisters in Christ who feel that finding Babylonian origins for present-day customs or practices is of great importance, my advice is to move cautiously in this area, lest we major on minors. If there are things in our lives or churches that are indeed pagan or displeasing to the Lord, they should be dealt with, of course. But in attempting to defuse the confusion of Babylon, we must guard against creating a new “Babylon” of our own making.” {Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 32}

 

“By citing pagan similarities, the Bible itself could be condemned as being “pagan.”

“If we build on similarities, ignoring differences, nearly anything can be made out to be pagan. Atheists have used the same method, rejecting the Bible altogether, supposing its writers borrowed their ideas from paganism. But in many cases, it was the other way around. Adam Clarke, from whom many of the references mentioned here were gleaned, says pagans often borrowed from events and practices recorded in the Bible. This point was emphasized by Tertullian.”
“If we base conclusions on similarities alone, not only the Bible, but the Lord himself would be pagan!
The pagan “woman” called “Mystery Babylon” had a cup in her hand; the Lord has a cup in his hand (Psa. 75:8).
Pagan kings sat on thrones and wore crowns; the Lord sits on a throne and wears a crown (Rev. 1:4; 14:14).
Pagans worshipped the sun; the Lord is the “Sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2).
Pagan gods were likened to stars; the Lord is called “the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).
Pagan gods had temples dedicated to them; the Lord has a temple (Rev. 17:15).
Pagans built a high tower in Babylon; the Lord is a high tower (2 Sam. 22:3).
Pagan gods were pictured with wings; the Lord is pictured with wings (Psa. 91:4).
Janus, “the god of doors and hinges,” was represented with a “key,” and called Patulcius and Clusius, “the opener and shutter.”  But the Lord Jesus, speaking to the church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor – as though to counter this – says He has a “key” and that He “opens, and no man shuts, and shuts, and no man opens” (Rev. 3:7).  Pagan may have regarded Janus as their opener and shutter, but to Christians, the true opener and shutter is Jesus Christ!
In each of these examples there is a similarity – but the differences are AWESOME! Primitive men may have worshipped a rock, but as a Biblical writer put it, “Their rock is not as our Rock!” (Deu. 32:31).”  Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 105-106

 

Following are a couple examples of “pagan parallels” in the feasts celebrated by Israel from Ralph Woodrow’s book, “The Babylon Connection?”.

firstfruits
The Babylon Connection? Ralph Woodrow pg 105

 

feast of tabernacles
The Babylon Connection? Ralph Woodrow pg 104

 

More pagan parallels from Ralph Woodrow’s book “The Babylon Connection?”

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 100
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 100

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 100
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 100

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 101

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 102

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103

 

 

rod
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 103

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104

 

 

Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104
Babylon Connection – Ralph Woodrow pg 104

 

 

The Two Babylons:  A Case Study in Poor Methodology

“While seeking to condemn the paganism of Roman Catholicism, Hislop produced his own myths. By so doing, he theorized that Nimrod, Adonis, Apollo, Attes, Baal-zebub, Bacchus, Cupid, Dagon, Hercules, Januis, Linus, Lucifer, Mars, Merodach, Mithra, Moloch, Narcissus, Oannes, Odin, Orion, Osiris, Pluto,
Saturn, Teitan, Typhon, Vulcan, Wodan, and Zoroaster were all one and the same.

By mixing myths, Hislop supposed that Semiramis was the wife of Nimrod and was the same as Aphrodite, Artemis, Astarte, Aurora, Bellona, Ceres, Diana, Easter, Irene, Iris, Juno, Mylitta, Proserpine, Rhea, Venus, and Vesta.

Take enough names, enough stories, and enough centuries; translate from one language to another; and a careless writer of the future might pass on all kinds of misinformation. Gerald Ford, an American president, might be confused with Henry Ford, the car manufacturer .  Abraham Lincoln might end up as the inventor of the automobile, the proof being that many cars had the name “Lincoln.” The maiden name of Billy Graham’s wife is Bell.  She has sometimes gone by the name Ruth Bell Graham. The inventor of the telephone was Alexander Graham Bell.  By mixing up names, someone might end up saying Billy Graham was the inventor of the telephone; or that he invented Graham Crackers. In fact, the inventor of Graham Crackers was Sylvester Graham. Again, similarities could be pointed out. Both men were named Graham. Both men were ministers. But the differences make a real difference: Sylvester was a Presbyterian and Billy a Baptist, and they were from different generations.

Building on similarities while ignoring differences is an unsound practice. Atheists have long used this method in an attempt to discredit Christianity altogether, citing examples of pagans who had similar beliefs about universal floods, slain and risen saviors, virgin mothers, heavenly ascensions, holy books, and so on.  As Christians, we don’t reject prayer just because pagans pray to their gods. We don’t reject water baptism just because ancient tribes plunged into water as a religious ritual. We don’t reject the Bible just because pagans believe their writings are holy or sacred.  The Bible mentions things like kneeling in prayer, raising hands, takin g off shoes on holy ground, a holy mountain, a holy place in the temple, pillars in front of the temple, offering sacrifices without blemish, a sacred ark, cities of refuge, bringing forth water from a rock, laws written on stone, fire appearing on a person’s head, horses of fire, and the offering of first fruits.

Yet, at one time or another, similar things were known among pagans. Does this make the Bible pagan? Of course not!

If finding a pagan parallel provides proof of paganism, the Lord Himself would be pagan. The woman called Mystery Babylon had a cup in her hand; the Lord has a cup in His hand (Ps. 75:8). Pagan kings sat on thrones and wore crowns; the Lord sits on a throne and wears a crown (Rev. 1:4; 14:14). Pagans worshiped the sun; the Lord is the “Sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2).

Pagan gods were likened to stars; the Lord is called “the bright and Morning star” (Rev. 22:16). Pagan gods had temples dedicated to them; the Lord has a temple (Rev. 7:15). Pagans built a high tower in Babylon; the Lord is a high tower (2 Sam. 22:3). Pagans worshiped idolatrous pillars; the Lord appeared as a pillar of fire (Exod. 13:21).”  {The Two Babylons:  A Case Study in Poor Methodology}

 

Towards a Legitimate Methodology

“Whenever one encounters a proposed example of pagan influence, one should demand that its existence be properly documented, not just asserted.  The danger of accepting an inaccurate claim is too great.  The amount of misinformation in this area is great enough that it is advisable never to accept a reported parallel as true unless it can be demonstrated from primary source documents or through reliable, scholarly secondary sources.

After receiving documentation supporting the claim of a pagan parallel, one should ask a number of questions:

1.  Is there a parallel?

Frequently, there is not.  The claim of a parallel may be erroneous, especially when the documentation provided is based on an old or undisclosed source.

For example: “The Egyptians had a trinity.  They worshiped Osiris, Isis, and Horus, thousands of years before the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were known” (Robert Ingersoll, Why I Am an Agnostic).

This is not true.  The Egyptians had an Ennead—a pantheon of nine major gods and goddesses.  Osiris, Isis, and Horus were simply three divinities in the pantheon who were closely related by marriage and blood (not surprising, since the Ennead itself was an extended family) and who figured in the same myth cycle.

They did not represent the three persons of a single divine being (the Christian understanding of the Trinity).  The claim of an Egyptian trinity is simply wrong.  There is no parallel.

2.  Is the parallel dependent or independent?

Even if there is a pagan parallel, that does not mean that there is a causal relationship involved.  Two groups may develop similar beliefs, practices, and artifacts totally independently of each other.

The idea that similar forms are always the result of diffusion from a common source has long been rejected by archaeology and anthropology, and for very good reason: humans are similar to each other and live in similar (i.e., terrestrial) environments, leading them to have similar cultural artifacts and views.

For example, Fundamentalists have made much of the fact that Catholic art includes Madonna and Child images and that non-Christian art, all over the world, also frequently includes mother and child images.  There is nothing sinister in this.  The fact is that, in every culture, there are mothers who hold their children!

Sometimes this gets represented in art, including religious art, and it especially is used when a work of art is being done to show the motherhood of an individual.  Mother-with child-images do not need to be explained by a theory of diffusion from a common, pagan religious source (such as Hislop’s suggestion that such images stem from representations of Semiramis holding Tammuz).

One need look no further than the fact that mothers holding children is a universal feature of human experience and a convenient way for artists to represent motherhood.

3.  Is the parallel antecedent or consequent?

Even if there is a pagan parallel that is causally related to a non-pagan counterpart, this does not establish which gave rise to the other.  It may be that the pagan parallel is a late borrowing from a non-pagan source.

Frequently, the pagan sources we have are so late that they have been shaped in reaction to Jewish and Christian ideas.  Sometimes it is possible to tell that pagans have been borrowing from non-pagans.  Other times, it cannot be discerned who is borrowing from whom (or, indeed, if anyone is borrowing from anyone).

For example: the ideas expressed in the Norse Elder Edda about the end and regeneration of the world were probably influenced by the teachings of Christians with whom the Norse had been in contact for centuries (H. A. Guerber, The Norsemen, 339f).

4.  Is the parallel treated positively, neutrally, or negatively?

Even if there is a pagan parallel to a non-pagan counterpart, that does not mean that the item or concept was enthusiastically or uncritically accepted by non-pagans.  One must ask how they regarded it.  Did they regard it as something positive, neutral, or negative?

For example: circumcision and the symbol of the cross might be termed “neutral” Jewish and Christian counterparts to pagan parallels.  It is quite likely that the early Hebrews first encountered the idea of circumcision among neighboring non-Jewish peoples, but that does not mean they regarded it as a religiously good thing for non-Jews to do.

Circumcision was regarded as a religiously good thing only for Jews because for them it symbolized a special covenant with the one true God (Gen. 17).  The Hebrew scriptures are silent in a religious appraisal of non-Jewish circumcision; they seemed indifferent to the fact that some pagans circumcised.

Source.

We would do well to follow such a methodology. It is logical, rational, objective – and above all, intelligent. It is just the sort of methodology that we would wish others to employ when examining our own faith.

Conclusion
The evidence presented in Leeming’s book (combined with my time at university and my personal studies in Greek, Norse, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Arabian, Christian and Jewish mythology) has led me to believe that there are common sources for many of the primal myths found throughout history. The first of these (naturally enough) is history itself, while the second is the predisposition of the human psyche.

To argue (as Hislop does) that the sole source is a shared religious tradition, is to ignore the plain facts of history and invite any amateur scholar to deconstruct the entire Christian faith on the basis of a few coincidental similarities.

A foolish mistake indeed.”  {Towards a Legitimate Methodology}

 

Zeitgeist

Movies such as “Zeitgeist” and books such as the “DaVinci Code” have popularized the pagan parallel concept in the minds of many.  With the use of the internet these false claims can spread like wildfire until it they seem like “common knowledge”.  As a result such “memes” as the followin gwill be passed on as factual.

 

happy birthday

This picture personifies the problem with the “Christianity is pagan” beliefs of many. On the surface level, those familiar with the claims that Christianity “synchretized” paganism will see this picture as truth and move on. The fact of the matter is that this image is full of falsehoods.

Tammuz was not a historical person (historically).  His “birth/rebirth” came in the Spring.

There’s no evidence of when Nimrod was born other than speculation.

Horus’ birth was actually celebrated during the month of Khoiak, (October/November).  There is no record of this date (Dec. 25) being significant for Dionysus/Bacchus. Like Attis, Dionysus is associated with the annual return of spring.  The festival of Bacchus/Dionysius was celebrated during the time period of December (by some) but not the winter solstice in particular, others celebrated Bacchanalia in March.

The Greeks didn’t celebrate the birthdays of the gods. Zeus for example was said by some to be born on December 25th but history said March 26th in 700 BC.

There is historical evidence that the birthdays of ‘sol invictus’ and Mithras were on December 25th (winter solstice) but these things came AFTER the days of Jesus Christ. One cannot say that Christians took this date because of the pagan sun gods, it was actually the opposite that occurred.

Many who have gotten involved in the “pagan origins” of Christianity, or certain aspects thereof, have done so because they were led to believe that the Church lied to them yet haven’t examined the claims of the “pagan” origins camp thoroughly enough to see that there are many more falsehoods coming from this side than from the Church. Scripture declares the church (body of Christ) is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). When the Church’s teachings are attacked and condemned as deriving from “paganism” it undermines the foundation of truth, Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:20; Acts 9:4-5). If one is going to make these claims, much research and examination must be done to ensure that these claims are fact and not antichrist lies.

I’ve believed, shared and taught many of the “pagan Christianity” claims in the past but I’ve come to find that teaching these things were not building up the body of Messiah as I had hoped but were rather tearing it down. I thought I was serving Christ but in reality I was persecuting Him (Acts 9:5). In some ways I was teaching truth (in varying degrees), but doing so in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

I encourage all believers in Messiah to research and study into this subject. Look at the claims and then look at all of the excellent research out there that absolutely refutes these claims. I see many believers innocently/ignorantly repeating the claims made by those in the “Christianity is pagan” movement when they are not based in fact. This is bearing false witness and is especially dangerous as it is false witness about our Lord and Savior.

 

cold case Christianity 2

Here’s a good summation from J. Warner Wallace, a ‘cold case Christianity investigator’ about this subject.

Take a Closer Look at the Mythology

“Pre-Christian mythologies are far less similar to the story of Jesus Christ than critics claim. The gods of mythology were not born of a virgin as Jesus was born to Mary, they did not live a life that was similar to Jesus in detail, they did not hold the titles attributed to Jesus, and they were not resurrected in a manner that is remotely similar to the resurrection of Christ. Primitive mythologies simply fail to resemble the Biblical account of Jesus when they are examined closely.

Take a Closer Look at the Strategy
Critics typically “cherry pick” from the mythological attributes of a variety of pagan gods and exaggerate the supposed similarities to construct a profile that is even vaguely similar to Jesus. Skeptics search for singular similarities to the Christ of the Bible and then assemble these similarities from a variety of gods spanning the centuries and originating in geographically diverse regions. Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical. There is no single prior mythology that is significantly similar to Jesus.

Take a Closer Look at the Expectations
Many alleged similarities are extremely general in nature and would be expected from anyone considering the existence of God. The primitive cultures that were interested in God’s nature reasoned that He would have the ability to perform miracles, teach humans and form disciples. These are universal expectations that fail to invalidate the historicity of Jesus. As Paul recognized on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31), men thought deeply about the nature of God prior to His arrival as Jesus. Sometimes they imagined the details correctly, sometimes they didn’t.

Take A Closer Look at the Influence
It is unreasonable to believe that Christian conspirators would create a story designed to convince Jewish believers that Jesus was God by inserting pagan mythological elements into the narrative. Judaism is a uniquely monotheistic religion, and the God of Judaism provides strict prohibitions against the worship of pagan gods. It is unreasonable to think that the New Testament authors would utilize pagan mythology in an attempt to influence adherents of Judaism.

The more you examine the nature of the gods who were worshiped before Jesus, the more you will notice their dissimilarities and the dishonesty of trying to compare them to the historical Jesus. Take the time to examine the evidence, you’ll be glad you did.”  {Why The Pre-Jesus Mythologies Fail To Prove Jesus Is A Myth}

Some people will take the testimony of Jesus Christ’s life recorded in the New Testament and find”pagan parallels” to this truth in the mythologies of ancient times and conclude that early Christian writers made up a fictional character of Christ amalgamating these different myths together of pagan sun-gods.

Some notes on “pagan savior” parallels…and proof Winston Churchill didn’t exist!

“An argument frequently advanced against Christianity runs roughly like this: there are many features of Christianity that resemble features of other religious, particularly ancient pagan religious; therefore, Christianity has copied those features; therefore, Christianity is not true…this argument rests upon unwarranted premises and that its logic is fallacious.”

Copycat copout: Jesus was not made up from pagan myths

 

Christians know that Jesus Christ is not a myth because they have a real relationship with Him but some get caught up in the same type of “pagan parallel” mentality when it comes to Christian holidays and deem them purely “pagan”.  I myself fell into this mentality for a number of years.  The problem is that this concept can be applied to the Old Testament writings and customs of those times as well.  If we are going to condemn Christmas and Easter, we must also condemn circumcision, baptism, Sukkot & Firstfruits for example.

 

Were Bible stories and characters stolen from pagan myths?

 

Is Genesis stolen from Babylonian Myths?

“In some Skeptical circles, it is still fashionable to make the claim that the creation account of Genesis was in some sense borrowed from the Babylonian creation account, Enuma Elish.”

The creation account in the Holy Bible has “pagan parallels”…does this mean that Moses “stole” these stories and adopted them to form his own religion?  Or are these pagan “parallels” actually testimonies to the truth of the Holy Bible?

“…it is very evident that, in many of the legends, not. only of the Greek, but of the Hindu and other mythologies, the Gentile nations have embodied their remembrances of events, the true record of which is found in the Mosaic Scriptures.”  {The Fallen Angels and the Heroes of Mythology}

 

The Flood during Noah’s days is another example of the truth recorded in the Bible having “pagan parallels”.

 Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic

How do creation and global flood legends from different cultures compare to the biblical account?

 Australian Aboriginal Flood Stories

The Biami legends of creation and Noah’s Flood

Flood!:  A wealth of deluge legends

A comparative study of the flood accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis

 

Did Akhenaten Influence Jewish Religion?

“In the never-ending search for a natural explanation for the origins of the Judeo-Christian religion, Skeptics have gone far afield looking for any person or idea they can point to and claim that the Jews or Christians “borrowed” from — and we will look here at one of the most common claims, one that goes as far back as Sigmund Freud [Red.HK, 4]. The claim: Monotheism, the belief in one god, is not a Hebrew original, but was borrowed from the Pharaoh Akhenaten.”

There are those who say that Christianity today came forth from Constantine.  This would be akin to saying Judaism came forth from Pharaoh Akhenaten.  Both claims are equally ridiculous.

 

Sargon vs Moses

“You don’t hear it much today, but it used to be all the rage to compare the birth story of Moses to that of a certain Sargon of Assyria, and claim copying was done.”  {Sargon vs Moses}

Others claim that Moses comes from ‘Sinuhe‘ or ‘Bacchus‘ and find parallels to the account of the Exodus in heathen literature such as  Thrasybulus bringing Greek exiles from Phyle being led by pillar of light (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible – Exodus 13:21).

“Baal Parallels”

baal

Following is an excellent article which examines the parallels in Hebrew thought of the Old Testament saints versus contemporary “pagan” thought of the time.  There are many parallels which God used (the Holy Spirit speaking through His prophets) to depict His greatness and superiority over the “pagan gods.”

Old Testament Storytelling Apologetics

“With the discovery in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of pagan religious texts from ancients near eastern (ANE) cultures such as Babylon, Assyria, and Ugarit, biblical scholarship has discovered many literary parallels between Scripture and the literature of ancient Israel’s enemies. The Hebrews shared many words, images, concepts, metaphors, and narrative genres in common with their neighbors. And those Hebrew authors of Scripture sometimes incorporated similar literary imagination into their text.

With regard to these biblical and ancient Near Eastern literary parallels, liberal scholarship tends to stress the similarities, downplay the differences, and construct a theory of the evolution of Israel’s religion from polytheism to monotheism.  In other words, liberal scholarship is anthropocentric, or human-centered. Conservative scholarship tends to stress the differences, downplay the similarities, and interpret the evidence as indicative of the radical otherness of Israelite religion.  In other words, conservative scholarship is theocentric, or God- centered. In this way, both liberal and conservative hermeneutics err on opposite extremes.

The orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture states that it is composed of “God-breathed” human-written words (2 Tim. 3:16). Men wrote from God, moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20–21). This is a “both/and” reality of humanly and heavenly authorship. While I affirm the heavenly side of God’s Word, in this essay I will illustrate how the authors of the Old Testament used the imagination of their enemies as a polemic against those enemies’ religion and deities. In my book, Word Pictures: Knowing God through Story and Imagination, I describe the nature of this subversive storytelling as the act of entering the opposition’s cultural narrative, retelling it through their own paradigm, or worldview, and thereby capturing the cultural narrative. God used literary subversion in the Bible as a means of arguing against the false gods and idols of that time.

In 1929, an archeological excavation at a mound in northern Syria called Ras Shamra unearthed the remains of a significant port city called Ugarit, whose developed culture reaches back as far as 3000 BC.4 Among the important finds were literary tablets that opened the door to a deeper understanding of ancient Near Eastern culture and the Bible. Those tablets included Syro-Canaanite religious texts of pagan deities mentioned in the Old Testament. One of those deities was Baal.

Though the Semitic noun baal means “lord” or “master,” it was also used as the proper name of the Canaanite storm god. In the Baal narrative cycle from Ugarit, El was the supreme “father of the gods,” who lived on a cosmic mountain. A divine council of gods called “Sons of El” surrounded him, vying for position and power. When Sea is coronated by El and given a palace, Baal rises up and kills Sea, taking Sea’s place as “most high” over the other gods (excepting El). A temple is built and a feast celebrated. Death then insults Baal, who goes down to the underworld, only to be defeated by Death. But Anat, Baal’s violent sister, seeks Death and cuts him up into pieces and brings Baal’s body back up to earth where he is brought back to life, only to fight Death to a stalemate.

The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible explains of Baal: “His elevated position shows itself in his power over clouds, storm, and lightning, and manifests itself in his thundering voice. As the god of wind and weather, Baal dispenses dew, rain, and snow and the attendant fertility of the soil. Baal’s rule guarantees the annual return of the vegetation; as the god disappears in the underworld and returns in the autumn, so the vegetation dies and resuscitates with him.”

BAAL IN THE BIBLE

In the Bible, Baal is used both as the name of a specific deity8 and as a generic term for multiple idols worshipped by apostate Israel.9 It was also used in conjunction with city names and locations, such as Baal-Hermon and Baal-Zaphon, indicating manifestations of the one deity worshipped in a variety of different Canaanite situations.10 Simply speaking, in Canaan, Baal was all over the place. He was the chief god of the land.

On entering Canaan, Yahweh gave specific instructions to the Israelites to destroy all the places where the Canaanites worshipped, along with their altars and images (Deut. 12:1–7). They were to “destroy the names” of the foreign idols and replace them with Yahweh’s name and habitation (vv. 3–4). God warned them, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deut. 11:16).

Yet, turning to other gods in worship is exactly what the Israelites did—over and over again. No sooner had the people settled in Canaan than they began to adopt Baal worship into their culture. The book of Judges describes this cycle of idolatry under successive leaders.11 In the ninth century BC, Elijah fought against rampant Baal worship throughout Israel (1 Kings 18). In the eighth century, Hosea decried the adulterous intimacy that both Judah and Israel had with Baal (Hos. 2:13, 16–17), and in the seventh century, Jeremiah battled with an infestation of it in Judah (Jer. 2:23; 32:35).

Baal worship was so cancerous throughout Israel’s history that Yahweh would have to intervene periodically with dramatic displays of authority in order to stem the infection that polluted the congregation of the Lord. Gideon’s miraculous deliverances from the Baal-loving Midianites (Judges 6–8) and Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) are just a couple examples of Yahweh’s real-world polemic against Baal. But physical battles and miraculous signs and wonders are not the only way God waged war against Baal in ancient Canaan. He also used story, image, and metaphor. He used literary imagination.

YAHWEH VS. BAAL

Literary subversion was common in the ancient world to effect the overthrow or overshadowing of one deity and worldview with another. For example, the high goddess Inanna, considered Queen of Heaven in ancient Sumeria, was replaced by her Babylonian counterpart, Ishtar. An important Sumerian text, The Descent of Inanna into the Underworld, was rewritten by the Babylonians as The Descent of Ishtar into the Underworld to accommodate their goddess Ishtar. The Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish, tells the story of the Babylonian deity Marduk and his ascendancy to power in the Mesopotamian pantheon, giving mythical justification to the rise of Babylon as an ancient world power in the early eighteenth century BC. And then when King Sennacherib of Assyria conquered Babylon around 689 BC, Assyrian scribes rewrote the Enuma Elish and replaced the name of Marduk with Assur, their chief god.

Picture this scenario: The Israelites have left Egypt where Yahweh literally mocked and defeated the gods of Egypt through the ten plagues (Exod. 12:12; Num. 33:4). Pharaoh claimed to be a god, who according to Egyptian texts was the “possessor of a strong arm” and a “strong hand.” So when Yahweh repeatedly hammers home the message that Israel will be delivered by Yahweh’s “strong arm” and “strong hand,” the polemical irony is not hard to spot. Yahweh used subversive literary imagery, which in effect said, “Pharaoh is not God, I am God.” Nothing like an arm wrestling match to show who is stronger.

But now, God is leading Israel into the Promised Land, which is very different from where they came, with very different gods. “For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven” (Deut. 11:10–11). And the god of rain from heaven in this new land was believed to be the storm god, Baal.

A look at some Ugaritic texts will give us a literary description of the Baal that Israel faced in Canaan. A side-by-side sampling of those Ugaritic texts with Scripture illustrates a strong reflection of Canaanite echoes in the biblical storytelling.

UGARITIC TEXTS

“Baal sits…
in the midst of his divine mountain, Saphon,
in the midst of the mountain of victory.
Seven lightning-flashes,
eight bundles of thunder,
a tree-of-lightning in his right hand.
His head is magnificent,
his brow is dew-drenched,
his feet are eloquent in wrath.”
(KTU 1.101:1–6)18

“The season of his rains may Baal indeed appoint,
the season of his storm-chariot.
And the sound of his voice from the clouds,
his hurling to the earth of lightning-flashes.”
(KTU 1.4:5.5–9)

“At his holy voice the earth quaked;
at the issue of his lips the mountains were afraid.
The ancient mountains were afraid;
the hills of the earth tottered.”
(KTU 1.4:7.30–35)

“Now your foe, Baal,
now your foe the Sea you must smite;
now you must destroy your adversary!
Take your everlasting kingdom,
your eternal dominion!”
(KTU 1.2:4.9–10)

“Then Baal returned to his house [temple].
Will either king or commoner
establish for himself dominion in the earth?”
(KTU 1.4:7.30–35)

OLD TESTAMENT

“Yahweh came from Sinai…
At His right hand there was flashing lightning…

There is none like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to your help,
And through the clouds in His majesty…

And He drove out the enemy from before you,
And said, ‘Destroy!’
So Israel dwells in security,
The fountain of Jacob secluded,
In a land of grain and new wine;
His heavens also drop down dew.”
(Deut. 33:1, 26–28)

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters…

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon…

The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire [lightning].
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness…
And in His temple everything says, ‘Glory!’
Yahweh sits enthroned over the flood;
Yahweh is enthroned as King forever.”
(Ps. 29:3, 5, 7–10)

The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire [lightning].
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness…
And in His temple everything says, ‘Glory!’
Yahweh sits enthroned over the flood;
Yahweh is enthroned as King forever.”
(Ps. 29:3, 5, 7–10)

Like the usage of Yahweh’s “strong arm” to argue poetically against the so-called “strong arm” of Pharaoh, so Yahweh inspires His authors to use water and storm language to reflect God’s polemic against the so-called storm god Baal.

Comparing the texts yields identical words, memes, and metaphors that suggest God is engaging in polemics against Baal through scriptural imagery and storytelling. It is not Baal who rides his cloud chariot from his divine mountain Saphon, it is Yahweh who rides the clouds from His divine Mount Sinai (and later, Mount Zion). It is not Baal who hurls lightning flashes in wrath; it is Yahweh whose lightning flashes destroy His enemies. It is not Baal whose dew-drenched brow waters the land of Canaan; it is Yahweh who drops dew from heaven to Canaan. It is not Baal’s voice that thunders and conquers the waters resulting in his everlasting temple enthronement, it is Yahweh whose voice thunders and conquers the waters resulting in His everlasting temple enthronement.

Psalm 29 (quoted in part above) is so replete with poetry in common with Canaanite poetry that many ANE scholars have concluded it is a Canaanite hymn to Baal that has been rewritten with the name Baal replaced by the name Yahweh.19 God was not only physically dispossessing Canaan of its inhabitants, He was literarily dispossessing the Canaanite gods as well. Old Testament appropriation of Canaanite culture is a case of subversion, not syncretism—overthrowing cultural narratives as opposed to blending with them.

A closer look at comparing just two elements of the Baal cycle with Yahweh’s story will yield a clearer picture of the literary subversion of the Canaanite narrative that God and the human authors were employing. Those two elements are the epithet of “cloud-rider” and God’s conflict with the dragon and the sea.

CLOUD-RIDER

In the Ugaritic text cited above, we are introduced to Baal as one who rides the heavens in his cloud-chariot dispensing judgment from the heights. “Charioteer (or ‘Rider’) of the Clouds” was a common epithet ascribed to Baal throughout the Ugaritic texts. Here is another side-by-side comparison of Ugaritic and biblical texts that illustrate that common motif.

UGARITIC TEXTS

“Dry him up. O Valiant Baal!
Dry him up, O Charioteer [Rider] of the Clouds!
For our captive is Prince Yam [Sea],
for our captive is Ruler Nahar [River]!”
(KTU 1.2:4.8–9)

“What manner of enemy has arisen against Baal,
of foe against the Charioteer of the Clouds?
Surely I smote the Beloved of El, Yam [Sea]?
Surely I exterminated Nahar [River], the mighty god?
Surely I lifted up the dragon,
I overpowered him?
I smote the writhing serpent,
Encircler-with-seven-heads!”
(KTU 1.3:3.38–41)

OLD TESTAMENT

“[Yahweh] bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
And He rode on a cherub and flew;
And He appeared on the wings of the wind.
And He made darkness canopies around Him,
A mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky.”
(2 Sam 22:10–12)

“[Yahweh] makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind.”
(Ps. 104:3)

“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about
to come to Egypt; The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence.”
(Isa. 19:1)

Yahweh is described here with the same exact moniker as Baal, in the same exact context as Baal—revealed in the storm and riding a cloud in judgment on other deities. Baal is subverted by Yahweh.

THE DRAGON AND THE SEA

The second narrative element of the Canaanite Baal cycle that I want to address is Baal’s conflict with the dragon and the sea. In ancient Near Eastern religious mythologies, the sea and the sea dragon were symbols of chaos that had to be overcome to bring order to the universe, or more exactly, the political world order of the myth’s originating culture. Some scholars call this battle chaoskampf—the divine struggle to create order out of chaos. Creation accounts were often veiled polemics for the establishment of a king or kingdom’s claim to sovereignty. Richard Clifford quotes, “In Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Israel the Chaoskampf appears not only in cosmological contexts but just as frequently— and this was fundamentally true right from the first—in political contexts. The repulsion and the destruction of the enemy, and thereby the maintenance of political order, always constitute one of the major dimensions of the battle against chaos.”

For example, the Sumerians had three stories where the gods Enki, Ninurta, and Inanna all destroy sea monsters in their pursuit of establishing order. The sea monster in two of those versions, according to Sumerian expert Samuel Noah Kramer, is “conceived as a large serpent which lived in the bottom of the ‘great below’ where the latter came in contact with the primeval waters.” In the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, Marduk battles the sea dragon goddess Tiamat, and splits her body into two parts, creating the heavens and the earth, the world order over which Babylon’s deity Marduk ruled.

Another side-by-side comparison of those same Ugaritic passages that we considered above with other Old Testament passages reveals another common narrative: Yahweh, the charioteer of the clouds, metaphorically battles with Sea (Hebrew: yam) and River (Hebrew: nahar), just as Baal struggled with Yam and Nahar, which is also linked to victory over a sea dragon/serpent.

UGARTIC TEXTS

“Dry him up. O Valiant Baal!
Dry him up, O Charioteer of the Clouds!
For our captive is Prince Yam [Sea],
for our captive is Ruler Nahar [River]!”
(KTU 1.2:4.8–9) 24

“What manner of enemy has arisen against Baal,
of foe against the Charioteer of the Clouds?
Surely I smote the Beloved of El, Yam [Sea]?
Surely I exterminated Nahar [River], the mighty god?
Surely I lifted up the dragon,
I overpowered him?
I smote the writhing serpent,
Encircler-with-seven-heads!”
(KTU 1.3:3.38–41)

OLD TESTAMENT

“Did Yahweh rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers (nahar),
Or was Your wrath against the sea (yam),
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?”
(Hab. 3:8)

“In that day…Yahweh will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
With His fierce and great and mighty sword,
Even Leviathan the twisted serpent;
And He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.”
(Isa. 27:1)

“You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan.”
(Ps. 74:13–14)

Baal fights Sea and River to establish his sovereignty. He wins by drinking up Sea and River, draining them dry, and thus establishing his supremacy over the pantheon and the Canaanite world order.25 In the second passage, Baal’s battle with Sea and River is retold in other words as a battle with a “dragon,” the “writhing serpent” with seven heads. Another Baal text calls this same dragon, “Lotan, the wriggling serpent.”  The Hebrew equivalents of the Ugaritic words tannin (dragon) and lotan are tanniyn (dragon) and liwyatan (Leviathan) respectively. Thus, the Canaanite narrative of Lotan (Leviathan) the sea dragon or serpent is undeniably employed in Old Testament Scriptures. Notice the last Scripture in the chart that refers to Leviathan as having multiple heads just like the Canaanite Leviathan.

And notice as well the reference to the Red Sea event also associated with Leviathan in the biblical text. In Psalm 74 above, God’s parting of the waters is connected to the motif of the Mosaic covenant as the creation of a new world order in the same way that Baal’s victory over the waters and the dragon are emblematic of his establishment of authority in the Canaanite pantheon. This covenant motif is described as a chaoskampf battle with the Sea and Leviathan (called Rahab) in several other significant biblical references as well.

SUBVERTING PAGANISM

The story of deity battling the river, the sea, and the sea dragon leviathan is clearly a common covenant motif in the Old Testament and its surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures. The fact that Hebrew Scripture shares common words, concepts, and stories with Ugaritic scripture need not mean that Israel is affirming the same mythology or pantheon of deities. The orthodox Christian need not fear literary similarity between Israel and Canaanite imagination. Common imagination springs from what Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern scholar John Walton calls a “common cognitive environment” of people in a shared space, time, or culture. Walton suggests “borrowing is not the issue…Likewise this need not concern whose ideas are derivative. There is simply common ground across the cognitive environment of the cultures of the ancient world.

The story of a cloud-rider controlling the elements and battling the Sea and Leviathan to establish his sovereignty over other gods with a new world order is not a false “myth,” it is a narrative shared between Israel and its pagan neighbors that Jewish authors appropriate, under divine authority of Yahweh, as a metaphor within their own discourse. God uses that cultural connection to subvert those words, concepts, and stories with His own poetic meaning and purpose.
Great fathers of the Faith utilized this same subversive storytelling. Curtis Chang, in his book, Engaging Unbelief, explains how Augustine wrote his City of God to defend the Christian faith in the Roman Empire in terms of urban historical narrative saturated with references, motifs, and themes from classical Roman authors. He subverted that “City of Man” by revealing the destructive pride lurking behind all human social construction. Aquinas, in his Summa contra Gentiles, appealed to the Aristotelian story of knowledge because he was addressing a Muslim culture steeped in Aristotle. But he subverted that cultural narrative by teasing out the ultimate insufficiency of human reason.

Chang explains this rhetorical strategy as threefold: “1. Entering the challenger’s story, 2. Retelling the story, 3. Capturing that retold tale with the gospel metanarrative.” He writes that the challenge of each epoch in history is a contest in storytelling, a challenge to “overturn and supplant the inherited story of the epoch with its own metanarrative…The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch.”

——

There are some actual pagan parallels found in the history of God’s people…however, God Himself commanded Israel to do these things.

For example, God commanded Abraham to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:10).  Yet, for centuries before Abraham was circumcised as a “religious symbol” of the covenant with God, the Egyptians were using circumcision as a “religious symbol” of entering into the “Mysteries.”  Abraham had lived in Egypt (Genesis 12:10) long before his circumcision and had a son with an Egyptian handmaid (Genesis 16:1, 16).

Baptism was also found in heathen religions long before Moses and “ritual washings” (Exodus 19:10; Leviticus 8:6 etc.) or John the Baptist.  Yet it was God who commanded Moses and John the Baptist to wash with water (John 1:33).

Tithing was required by “Jupiter, Hercules and others” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible – Genesis 28:22), does this mean that Abraham, Jacob and Moses were copying the heathen?

All cultures have stories that trace back to creation, the garden of Eden, the fall of man, the flood and most importantly, redemption and return to the Most High.  Many also have stories that trace back to Genesis 6 and the Tower of Babel as well.

Letter of Aristeas
15 our deeds to give the lie to our words. Since the law which we wish not only to transcribe but also to translate belongs to the whole Jewish race, what justification shall we be able to find for our embassy while such vast numbers of them remain in a state of slavery in your kingdom? In the perfection and wealth of your clemency release those who are held in such miserable bondage, since as I have been at pains to discover, the God who gave them their law is the God who maintains your kingdom. They worship the same God – the Lord and Creator of the Universe, as all other men, as we ourselves, O king, though we call him by different names, such as Zeus or Dis. This name was very appropriately bestowed upon him by our first ancestors, in order to signify that He through whom all things are endowed with life and come into being, is necessarily the ruler and lord of the Universe. Set all mankind an example of magnanimity by releasing those who are held in bondage.’

It is evident that in many legends, not only of the Greek but also of the Hindu and other mythologies, the Gentile nations have embodied their remembrances of events, the true record of which is found in the Bible.

1Ma 3:48  And laid open the book of the law, wherein the heathen had sought to paint the likeness of their images.

E. Raymond Capt writes in his book The Glory Of The Stars, “Agnostics have long offered virgin–born saviours, messiahs, or sons of God, preceding the Christian era, as criticism of the orthodox Christian position. Such claims are no longer valid in the light of Celestial Revelation. All world religions do show a common origin (by similarities) but it only proves that in the beginning, all mankind was given God’s plan for humanity. In such cases, having foreknowledge of a virgin–born savior, it was no problem for corrupt priests to fabricate one, and, every religion did just that. Nor did such practices cease with the birth of Jesus Christ”.
To arrive at the source of a matter, one by necessity, must trace it back to its beginning.  In every nation and culture on the Earth, there can be found in it’s ancient historical writings, a story of a flood, a story of a “god–man”. This is most apparent in the ancient Chinese symbol language, where their symbol for creation is made by combining three separate symbols. The symbol for man, the symbol for dust and the symbol for breath. In a nation whose language goes back more than five thousand years, and whose people have been denied the Bible for so long, it is amazing to find the creation account from Genesis incorporated into the Chinese language in their letter–symbol for creation.”

Rev 1:4  John to the seven assemblies in Asia: Grace to you, and peace, from the One who is, and who was, and who is coming, and from the seven spirits which are before His throne;

Albert Barnes commentary

It is remarkable that there are some passages in pagan inscriptions and writings which bear a very strong resemblance to the language used here by John respecting God. Thus, Plutarch (De Isa. et Osir., p. 354.), speaking of a temple of Isis, at Sais, in Egypt, says, “It bore this inscription – ‘I am all that was, and is, and shall be, and my vail no mortal can remove’“ –  Ἐγώ εἰμι πᾶν τὸ γεγονός, καὶ ὅν, καὶ ἐσόμενον καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν πέπλον οὐδείς τω θνητὸς ἀνεκάλυψεν  Egō eimi pan to gegonos, kai hon, kai esomenon kai ton emon peplon oudeis tō thnētos anekalupsen. So Orpheus (in Auctor. Lib. de Mundo), “Jupiter is the head, Jupiter is the middle, and all things are made by Jupiter.”

The name/character of God

Wis 14:21 And this became a hidden trap for mankind, because men, in bondage to misfortune or to royal authority, bestowed on objects of stone or wood the name that ought not to be shared.

 

Genesis 11:1 John Gill commentary
Abydenus (z) an Heathen historian, speaking of the building of the tower of Babel, says,”at that time men were ομογλωσσους, of the same tongue;”in like manner Hyginus (a), speaking of Phoroneus, the first of mortals, that reigned, says,”many ages before, men lived without towns and laws, “una lirgua loquentes”, speaking one language, under the empire of Jove.”
Jove in Latin could be pronounced as “Yahweh”.

APHRODITE:
E.W. Bullinger Companion Bible appendix 21
“Calling on the Name of the LORD”
What was really begun was the profanation of the name of Jehovah. They began to call something by the Name of Jehovah. The AV suggests themselves in the margin. But the majority of ancient Jewish commentators supply the Ellipsis by the words “their gods”; suggesting that they called the stars and idols their gods, and worshipped them.

The Targum Jonathan says: “That was the generation in whose days they began to err, and to make themselves idols, and surnamed their idols by the Name of the Word of the Lord.

Pagan emperors admitted that their faith was very similar to that of the Hebrews

“The Jews behave like the Gentiles [Pagans] except that they acknowledge only one god. This is something distinctive to them, but alien to us. As for everything else, though, we share common ground—temples, sanctuaries, altars, rituals of purification, certain injunctions where we do not diverge from one another at all, or only in insignificant ways.” {Emperor Julian –  Against the Galileans, fr 72 (306 B)}

The Origin of Man’s Religions  by Patrick Zukeran
“Anthropologists Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, author of the 4000 page treatise, The Origin and Growth of Religion, and, more recently, Don Richardson , author of Eternity in Their Hearts, documented this fact in the hundreds of cultures they studied. They discovered that the religion of some of the most ancient cultures were monotheistic and practiced little or no form of animism or magic. In almost every culture around the world, the religion of a particular culture began with a concept of a masculine, creator God who lives in the heavens. He provided a moral law by which the people would enter into a relationship with him. This relationship was broken when the people were disobedient, and as the relationship deteriorated, the people distanced themselves from the creator and their knowledge of him faded. As the civilization moved further away, they began to worship other lesser gods. In their search to survive in a world filled with spiritual forces, they desired power to manipulate the forces, and thus there was an increase in the use of magic.

This theory fits very well with what is revealed in Scripture. Genesis teaches us that God created man and that man lived according to his knowledge of God and His laws. However, from Adam’s first act of disobedience, mankind continued his sinful path away from God. Paul summarizes this history in Romans 1. The theory of original monotheism is the most consistent with Scripture and appears to have strong historical support.

Here are just a few examples.

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics states that the Chinese culture before Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, 2600 years before Christ, worshipped Shang Ti. They understood Him to be the creator and law-giver. They believed that He was never to be represented by an idol. When the Zhou Dynasty controlled China during the years 1066-770 B.C., the worship of Shang Ti was replaced by the worship of heaven itself, and eventually three other religions were spawned in China.

In a region north of Calcutta, India, there lived the Santal people. They were found worshipping elements of nature. However, before these practices developed, they worshipped Thakur Jiu, the genuine God who created all things. Although they knew Thakur Jiu was the true God, the tribe forsook worshipping Him and began entering into spiritism and the worship of lesser gods who ruled over some aspect of creation.

In Ethiopia, the Gedeo people number in the millions and live in different tribes. These people sacrifice to evil spirits out of fear. However, behind this practice is an older belief in Magano, the one omnipotent creator. The Incas in South America also have this same belief. Alfred Metraux, author of History of the Incas, discovered the Inca’s originally worshipped Viracocha, the Lord, the omnipotent creator of all things. Worship of Inti, the Sun God, and other gods are only recent departures from this monotheistic belief.

Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts, illustrates how this theory shaped the missionary effort in China and Korea. In ancient China, the Lord of the Heavens was referred to as Shang Ti. In Korea, he was referred to as Hananim.

Over the centuries, the Chinese departed from the worship of Shang Ti and adopted the beliefs of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism that taught the worship of ancestors and the Buddha. However, even after two thousand years, the Chinese still mentioned the name of Shang Ti. However, even in Buddhism, a shadow of Messiah is seen in the verbal tradition of Gautama Buddha who said that ‘After me will come Phra-Ariya-Metrai, the Lord of Mercy.  When he appears, my followers must all follow him.’ ”

 

“Concerning the Shan and Palaung preoccupation with Are-Mataya that ‘no figure in all their religious horizon more quickly rouses their interest.  In one of their books regarding Are-Metaya is found a verse very similar to the book of Isaiah:  ‘Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain,’ and they expect Are-Metaya literally to fulfill this prophecy when he comes.”

In 1884, Protestant missionaries entered Korea. After studying the culture, they believed that Hananim was the residual witness of God. As these missionaries began to preach utilizing this remnant witness, their message was enthusiastically received. Instead of introducing a foreign God from the west, they were reintroducing the natives to the Lord of their ancestors whom they were interested to know. The Catholic missionaries who had been in Korea for decades were still employing designations for God from Chinese phrases like Tien Ju. As a result, the Korean people responded to the message from the Protestant missionaries and Christianity spread throughout the country at an explosive rate.”  {Eternity in Their Hearts pg 88}

Tabernacle Temple

Another good example of “pagan parallels” is the Tabernacle & Temple.

1Ki 8:12  Then spake Solomon, The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible – 1 Kings 8:12

This was imitated by the Heathens; hence the Lacedemonians had a temple dedicated to Jupiter Scotitas, or the dark, as Pausanias (u) relates; and the Indian Pagans to this day affect darkness in their temples, and are very careful that no light enter into them but by the door, which is commonly strait and low, and by little crevices in the windows (w).

(u) Laconica, sive, I. 3. p. 178. (w) Agreement of Customs between the East-Indians and Jews, art. 5. p. 35.

Many temples of ancient times were direct “parallels” of Solomon’s temple whose pattern was given by the Most High (1 Chronicles 28:19).

According to Manly P. Hall, Rabbinic thought states that Solomon’s temple was based upon the Mystery religions.  This is because so many aspects of Temple can be found in the Mysteries. The Mysteries trace back to the Garden of Eden so it is no surprise that many of the truths of Scripture are found in the Mysteries, albeit usually corrupted.  Sadly, many scholars take the fact that savior figures found in all cultures and temples that are designed similarly to Solomon’s Temple are indications that Israel copied the religious beliefs of their neighbors.

The reality is that The Holy Scriptures are the Words from heaven.  It is the pagan mysteries that took the Truth of the Word revealed to Adam and the patriarchs and corrupted them to their own damnation.  Shadows of Messiah are seen in all creation, especially in the movements of the heavenly bodies, hence all nations have access to the Truth and consequently hold a form of the Truth.

“According to the ancient Rabbins, Solomon was an initiate of the Mystery schools and the temple which he built was actually a house of initiation containing amass of pagan philosophic and phallic emblems. The pomegranates, the palm-headed columns, the Pillars before the door, the Babylonian cherubim, and the arrangement of the chambers and draperies all indicate the temple to have been patterned after the sanctuaries of Egypt and Atlantis. Isaac Myer, in The Qabbalah, makes the following observation:
“The pseudo-Clement of Rome, writes: ‘God made man male and female. The male is Christ: the female, the Church.’ The Qabbalists called the Holy Spirit, the mother, and the Church of Israel, the Daughter. Solomon engraved on the walls of his Temple, likenesses of the male and female principles, to adumbrate this mystery; such, it is said, were the figures of the cherubim. This was, however, not in obedience to the words of the Thorah. They were symbolical of the Upper, the spiritual, the former or maker, positive or male, and the Lower, the passive, the negative or female, formed or made by the first.”  {Secret Teachings of All Ages – Manly P. Hall pg 575}

Visual Arts Contextualization in the Bible, Part 1

“So on that note, I’d like to start with the Tabernacle. After God led the Israelites out of Egypt, he commanded Moses to have them build a portable sanctuary where God could meet with Moses and the Israelites could worship God appropriately (Exodus 25-30). To say that God’s directions for constructing the Tabernacle and its components were quite specific is an understatement! God specified the dimensions, colors, materials and iconography down to the most minute details.”

Ramses camp

” What becomes interesting regarding contextualization is the similarity of the Tabernacle’s layout and iconography (and later the Temple’s) to other similar structures in the ancient Near East. The first one of note is the Egyptian military tent. Egyptian military tents were command centers for the Egyptian army during military campaigns, with either Pharaoh himself present inside, or an image of him. The ratio of both the Tabernacle and Egyptian military tents were the same. Both faced east and were surrounded by a wall-off area. Inside each tent there was a rectangular “reception area”, which led to a square-shaped holy of holies where the divine Pharaoh himself resided and would communicate with his generals.”

ramses 2

In a drawing of a wall relief showing Ramses II’s war tent, two winged Horus figures spread their wings protectively around a cartouche containing the Pharaoh’s name, much like the two winged cherubs which adorned the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle. In both cases, this is where each “god” would speak to his people.

In his article “The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel” John Monson writes that “the Hittite temple in ‘Ain Dara, northern Syria, is the most significant parallel to Solomon’s Temple ever discovered.” It is contemporaneous in date, similar in size, and shares many of the same features. It was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar, who would’ve been represented inside by a statue of the goddess. Gregory K. Beale writes that in nearby Assyria, “Ashurbanipal II (883-859 B.C.) ‘created an icon of the goddess Ishtar . . . from the finest stones, fine gold . . . (thus) making her great divinity resplendent,’ and he ‘set up in (the temple) her dais [throne platform] (with the icon) for eternity.’ The resplendent glory of the image was to reflect the luminescent glory of the goddess herself. Accordingly, the light of the deity was to shine out from the temple into the faces of humanity.”

solomon temple

Of course, Solomon’s Temple (like the Tabernacle) was built to house the Ark of the Covenant, which was considered to be Yahweh’s throne, though he himself was never depicted.

solomon temple 2

Monson continues in his article: “Built on a large raised platform, the [‘Ain Dara] temple consists of three rooms: a niche-like portico, or porch; an antechamber; and a main hall, which housed the innermost shrine.” This innermost shrine was analogous to the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple, while ‘Ain Dara’s main hall was similar to Solomon’s Holy Place (minus the antechamber), in which most of the Temple furniture (menorahs, etc.) were kept. Both temples had a portico, each flanked by two columns.

 

Other similarly-constructed temples existed in the Near East, such as the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.) temple at Hazor in northern Israel, and the eighth-century B.C. temple at Tell Ta‘yinat, in northern Syria. According to Monson, “Today we know of at least two dozen excavated temples that may be compared to Solomon’s Temple. Most of them are of the long-room type and come from the area north of the Israelite heartland. The Bible itself tells us that Solomon’s Temple design was mediated through Hiram of Tyre and other artisans from Phoenicia, the coastal region north of Israel (1 Kings 5, 7:13–37).”

Once again, we see (like the Israelite Tabernacle) that Solomon’s temple to Yahweh was heavily influenced in its overall layout by those of its neighboring cultures (although in the case of Solomon’s temple, God himself did not give the specific dimensions). We have no biblical evidence that God disapproved of this architectural influence from Tyre/Phonecia, as long as the Israelites worshiped him alone. And as mentioned in last week’s discussion of the Tabernacle, God himself based its design on Egyptian models.

The cherubim are a class of angelic beings mentioned in the Bible, and in various ancient Near Eastern cultures. They are identified in the Bible first as guardians of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), or simply as being in Eden (Ez. 28:13-14). In later passages they are depicted as guardians of the throne of God (Ex. 25:17-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28; Ex. 26:31; Ez. 1:26, Ps. 80:1, 99:1; Is. 37:16; Dan. 3:55), or are described as being modes of transport for God Himself (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10; Ez. 10:18-19).

As noted in some of the passages above, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional images of cherubim adorned the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple: on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, on the entrance to the Holy of Holies, standing on either side of the Ark itself, and on the interior walls of the Temple.

The image of cherubim as throne guardians was widespread throughout the rest of the Near East during the time of ancient Israel, but it was most common in Syria and Northern Mesopotamia between 2000 and 700 B.C. (Solomon built his temple to Yahweh in 960 B.C.).

I’d like to focus on an idea that I recently read about in The Temple and the Church’s Mission  by G. K. Beale, and secondly in an article entitled “Jerusalem as Eden,” by Lawrence E. Stager (Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2000). The idea is this: that the motifs and symbolism of Israel’s temple, like the temples of its pagan neighbors, were based on the idea of a primeval garden. If this is the case (and it seems to be, at least in part), then it is another way in which Israel borrowed artistic and theological concepts from its neighbors in order to show the truths of Yahweh.

As Beale puts it, “It is apparent that Israel intentionally alluded to facets of the pagan religion surrounding them (e.g., Egyptian, Canaanite and Babylonian) in order to affirm that what the pagans thought was true of their gods was true only of Israel’s God” (p. 29).

The idea of a primeval garden from which God ruled over the earth was common to several cultures surrounding ancient Israel. A central part of these cosmologies was the idea of the garden being located on a cosmic mountain where the deity dwelled. From this mountain flowed the primordial waters of life, which watered the garden and the earth (see Genesis 2:10-14). Examples of garden imagery in the temples of Israel’s neighbors include a temple created by Ramses III of Egypt, who created “gardens” inside his god’s temple. In the temple of Isis on the island of Philae, colorful foliage forms the capitals of the ten pillars. We recognize several sorts of tropical vegetation: lotuses, papyri, palm trees. The huge, beautifully painted pillars symbolize the first plants, trees and flowers of the earth which began to grow on the Primeval Mound (symbolized by the temple floor). In the ceiling (the sky), are images of the Day Boat and the Night Boat, and of the vultures of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Another example of garden imagery is a mural in the Babylonian palace at Mari, located on the banks of the Euphrates in modern Syria. It depicts the installation of King Zimri-Um into office. According to Stager, “The setting for the ceremony is a paradise garden with date palms and stylized papyrus stalks. Guarding the garden and the palace are winged sphinxes, griffins and bulls. At the outer edges of the scene, two goddesses of high rank stand with upraised arms– a gesture of protection for all within the garden precincts” (p. 39). In addition, he mentions “near the city of Assur, archaeologists have discovered a garden temple associated with the akitu festival. Row after row of tree pits filled the courtyards of the sanctuary” (p. 43). Stager mentions several examples of Near Eastern kings (including Solomon) who built literal gardens near their temples or palaces and filled them with all kinds of trees and plants from near and far. These lush gardens reinforced the idea of kings as the representatives of their gods on earth, with each king tending the garden or dwelling place of the god.

Inside Solomon’s Temple itself, the entry portico was flanked by two tree-like columns which were capped with lily-shaped capitals, each interlaced with two rows of pomegranates (1 Kings 7). The olive wood folding doors at the entrance to the temple and to the Holy of Holies, like the walls of the central hall (Holy Place), were decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and rosettes (open flowers), all of which were covered in gold (1 Kings 6). As mentioned in last week’s post, cherubim were mythic/spiritual beings in Near Eastern cosmology who guarded both the throne of God and the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. In the main hall (Holy Place), there was one main lampstand (menorah) flanked by ten additional smaller lampstands. Beale speculates that the main lampstand represented the Edenic Tree of Life. God’s instructions for its construction (Ex. 25:31-36) call for it to look somewhat like a small, flowering tree with seven protruding branches from a central trunk. The overall effect of the entire grouping of lampstands suggest a forest of trees. In fact, when describing the later destruction of the temple by enemies, the writer of Psalm 74:5-7 stated “They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees.”

Like the garden of Eden, Solomon’s Temple suggested that God could metaphorically step out of the Holy of Holies into the Holy Place, just as he had stepped down from his throne and walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam. In this sense (according to Beale and others), Eden was the first “temple” and Adam was the first priest who, like Moses, met face to face with God. In conclusion, I agree with Beale’s thoughts on the significance of the parallels with Solomon’s Temple and those of his neighbors:

This resemblance of pagan temples to Israel’s temple probably was due, at least in part, to a refracted and marred understanding of the true conception of the temple that was present from the very beginning of human history. As history unfolded, God’s special revelation about the temple continued only with the faithful remnant of humanity. The recollection of the true temple by those outside God’s covenant community probably continued, but its memory became dim over time. Nevertheless… some temples were designed that still retained features corresponding to God’s own view. God’s people, on the other hand, continued building temples that represented the pristine view of the true cult (Beale, p. 29).

The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel

 

The Temple of Melqart was so similar to the Temple of Solomon that some researchers actually think that the design for Solomon’s temple came from the Temple of Melqart.  The Holy Scriptures, however, declare that God Himself designed Solomon’s Temple (1 Chronicles 28:12-13, 19).

Solomon’s Temple Copy of Phoenician Temple of Melqart in Tyre

“After studying records about Solomon’s Temple and Melqart’s Temple, one finds a lot in common between the two. It would not be a far-fetched suggestion to say that Solomon’s Temple of Jerusalem was a copy of Melqart’s Temple of Tyre. Because of the splendor it occupied in their mind, it is understandable that the Phoenician builders must have used Melqart’s Temple as a prototype for designing and building Solomon’s Temple.”

The kings and prophets of Israel worshiped God at the Temple which Scripture declares He designed.  This design had a “pagan parallel” in Tyre and was built by men of Tyre who may have actually built the “pagan parallel” (1 Kings 7:13-15, 40).

Josephus wrote that King Hiram, who helped Solomon build the Temple, also built the temple of Heracles (Melqart) and Ashtart

  He also went and cut down materials of timber out of the mountain called Lebanon, for the roof of temples; and when he had pulled down the ancient temples, he both built the temple of Heracles and that of `Ashtart; and he was the first to celebrate the awakening (egersis) of Heracles in the month Peritius  (Antiquities 8.5.3).

These are but a few, quick examples of “pagan parallels” found between the true worship of God in the TaNaKH and surrounding pagan cultures.  If God used “pagan symbols” during Old Testament times, is it wrong for Christians to use symbols in their worship which may have parallels in pagan cultures?

Can Christians Celebrate the Resurrection Using Pagan Symbols?

“God is the Creator of everything, so any object from nature the pagans may use in their worship is actually a corruption of what God has created. Christians might use an egg to communicate the idea of Christ’s Resurrection without worshipping the egg, expecting increased fertility, or associating it with a pagan god. In fact, we might take the opportunity to explain how Satan has perverted God’s truth and His creation to deceive people through such practices.

Many people use Deuteronomy 12:1–32 to suggest that incorporating various cultural practices into worshipping God is forbidden. It is clear that in some instances the springtime worship rituals were simply adopted by Christians. However, Christians who use eggs in their celebrations today do not do so to honor a fertility goddess or with the impression they are worshipping God through the egg. Those who participate in sunrise services are doing so because that is the approximate time Christ rose from the dead, not because they are unknowingly worshipping the sun.
The Deuteronomy passage must be considered in its context. The commands of chapter 12 are for the conquest of Canaan. In verses 1–4, the Israelites are also called to destroy every altar and idol they encounter. Verses 29–32 are a reiteration of this command. We do not see such a command in the New Testament as the gospel was spreading around the globe. Paul did not topple the statues he found in Athens—he used them as an opportunity to teach about the real God who had created the earth and had risen from the dead.
In general, Christians have used formerly pagan symbols to represent the new life we have in Christ. Celebrating His Resurrection is the perfect time to be reminded of the new life each believer has in Christ. The grass and flowers that spring forth as the weather warms are a splendid analogy for the rebirth of the Christian. We should be constantly reminded of God’s active role in sustaining the earth He has given us to live on. Springtime offers a time to remember that it is God who causes the grass to grow (Psalm 147:8), just as He causes new birth for those who turn to the resurrected Lord Jesus in repentance and faith (1 Peter 1:3–5). We should acknowledge this wonderful truth every day, not just on Easter, as we praise God for His goodness and mercy.
As you consider how best to acknowledge the Resurrection, take time to make sure your practices help you bring honor and glory to Christ. Christians should take care to be separate from the influences of worldliness and live as a people called out of the world by God. Certainly, some will say Scripture does not command the celebration, and so it should be avoided. Others will say there are no commands against it and no shame in participating in cultural activities that are not sinful (1 Corinthians 8; Romans 14). Others will insist that we keep only the feasts given to the Israelites and that to do anything else is a perverted form of worship.
Remember that those brothers and sisters with whom you disagree have also been bought with Christ’s blood and have His Spirit living in them. Share your understanding of Scripture with love knowing that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin. If your convictions lead you to avoid the common customs, do so, and do not violate your conscience on these matters. Regardless, make sure Christ is the focus of your worship not only during the celebration of the Resurrection, but every day of your life. Paul reminded his readers of the attitude believers should have toward each other.”  {Can Christians Celebrate the Resurrection Using Pagan Symbols?}

 

“A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord.  Wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify Him as God’”.  {Augustine – On Christian Teaching II.75}

For more on this subject of “Pagan Parallels” see:

Copycat copout: Jesus was not made up from pagan myths

 Claims of Jesus’ comparisons to the various deities

Were Bible stories and characters stolen from pagan myths?

pagan-christianity

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays part 1

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays part 2

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Examine Yourself

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Pagan Christianity?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Alexander Hislop

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Ralph Woodrow

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Church Fathers & Paganism

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Constantine

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