From New York Times today:
JERUSALEM — A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.
If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.
Of course, the Jesus story has parallels with not only Jewish myths, but also myths from other earlier traditions of that time and region.
Some examples are given in The Jesus Mysteries by Tim Freke and Peter Gandi where they outline the following parallels of the Osiris-Dionysus and Jesus stories:
- Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh, the savior and “Son of God.”
- His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin.
- He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on December 25 before three shepherds.
- He offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism.
- He miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
- He rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while people wave palm leaves to honor him.
- He dies at Eastertime as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
- After his death he descends to hell, then on the third day he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven in glory.
- His followers await his return as the judge during the Last Days.
- His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine, which symbolize his body and blood.
Why is it so? The obvious answer is that the Jesus myth picked up elements of existing myths to make it more familiar to the people of the time.
But another answer, as Freke and Gandi points out, is that these stories are about an inner truth more than an outer – historic – truth. They reflect an inner process of growing and waking up.
And that is why similar story elements not only appear in traditions of that place and time, but around the world in many different cultures, and also in dreams and visions of people today.
None of this really touch whether Jesus was a historic figure or not. He may well have been, and the specific events of his life may or may not have followed the lines of the Jesus story as we know it today.
A few footnotes:
I am aware that the Freke/Gandi thesis is slightly controversial, but the parallels between the Jesus story and of those of earlier myths is not limited to the Osiris-Dionysus example.
Also, when these elements appear in dreams, it is obviously sometimes because people are familiar with them through their waking life. Dreams reflect what is going on for the dreamer, and come up with these stories partly because they are the natural language for dreams (and myths), and sometimes also because they are consciously known by dreamer
And, as I mentioned, Jesus may have been a historic person or not, and the honest answer is that we don’t know. If someone find it helpful to think of him as a historic person, that is fine. And for any of us, it can be helpful to see if the Jesus story reflects a process of growing and waking up that can happen here now, especially if we invite it in – including through the traditional tools of Christianity such as ethics, prayer, service and so on.