Christianity and Paganism

This paper is a response to a post by a Muslim named Dhia concerning the influences of Paganism on Christianity.

I have slightly edited some of the posts to eliminate redundancy. Dhia's series of posts starts first. Dhia based his comments mainly on F. Artz's book, "The Mind of the Middle Ages".


Modern scholarship is not in agreement on the subject of how much Christianity drew from the mystery religion. At one extreme scholars hold that the borrowing of the Christians was extensive; at the other extreme, the critics believe that what influence on Christianity was indirect.

Read "The Mind of the Middle Ages" By Frederick B. Artz. page: 34-35

Mithraism comes from Persia.

Osiris another pagan god.
Cults practice:

You guys from the minute you're entering the church to the minute you leave church, you are practicing nothing but paganism. If you need more detail, just say so; I have more about the subject, enough for ten posts.


From a book called "Jesus' Tomb In India" Debate on his death and resurrection, by Paul C. Pappas; he is professor of history at West Virginia Institute of Technology.

On page 13, ...........cult of Mithra from Persia were sun cults that had become popular among the Roman soldiers, and their beliefs and rituals were borrowed to some degree by Christianity. This was especially the case with the cult of Mithras which accepted the immortality of the soul, dualism, the triumph of good over evil, judgement day, and the resurrection of the dead. Mithras, the sun-god, was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, and worshipped on Sunday, the day of the conquering sun. He was a savior-god who rivaled Jesus in popularity. He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of righteousness against the dark forces of the god evil.


From a book called Pagan Christs, by J.M. Robertson, published by Dorset Press.

The Gentile Christists were able to adapt themselves to the needs of the time. Inevitably this exposed their increasingly pagan influences. The whole conception of a purely spiritual, as distinct from temporal, salvation which grew up in the Gentile churches is Hellenistic or persian rather than Jewish. ((page 70-71))

And the higher mysteries of communion, divine sacrifice, and resurrection, as we have seen, were as much Mithraic as Christist, ......... .

The Mithraic Christians actually continued to celebrate Christmas Day as birthday of the sun, despite the censures of the Pope; and their Sunday had been adopted by the supplanting faith. When they listened to the Roman litany of the holy name of Jesus, they knew they were listening to the very epithets of the Sun-god ----- God of the skies, purity of the eternal light, king of glory, sun of justice, strong God, father of the ages to come, angle of great counsel. In the epistles of Paul they found Christian didactics tuned to the very key of their mystical militarism. ((page 132)).


From a book called "The Mind Of The Middle Ages" by Frederick B. Artz, Third Edition, Revised.

On page 36 - 37:

Man's rebirth and salvation was the result of a quasi-magical and quasi-spiritual operation. All, except Mithraism and Christianity, were primarily religions of faith rather than of works. Each had a place for a savior-mediator between the individual and the supreme divine force. The individual achieved a mystic union with the savior by prayer, by ascetic practices, by the eating of some symbol of his being, by the passionate contemplation of the spectacle of his suffering death and his resurrection, and finally, in certain religions, by living a more moral life.


Paul C. Pappas, wrote in his book called Jesus' Tomb in india; page 13

Jesus was transformed into a judao-Greek sun-god of a new cult. By a decree in 321 A.D., Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, declared Sunday a day of worship, not Saturday or the Sabbath of the early Christians and Jews. In addition, those converted to Christianity did not want to part completely with their cult beliefs and practices; and there was also the need to popularize Christianity, to make it more attractive to the masses, and thus to enable it to compete successfully with the pagan religions, which it certainly did. Therefore, the Christians retained some of these beliefs and rituals, the mysteries, but transformed them into Christian sacraments which offer the divine grace of salvation. The followers of Mithras, who had an eucharistic meal, believed that they were saved by the blood of the bull slain by Mithras to give life to the earth, the Christians by the blood of the lamb, symbolizing Jesus. Christmas Day, originally celebrated on January 6, was changed to the popular day of December 25, the winter solstice. Generally speaking, Christianity owes to the mystery "the notions of secrecy, of symbolism, of mystical brotherhood, of sacramental grace and above all, of the three stages in the spiritual life: ascetic purification, illumination and epopleia (vision of the deity leading to blessedness)."

  • Also the above mentioned in Dead Sea Scrolls, by Davies. page 90-91
  • See also Davies, First Christian, page 122-125.
  • And Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, Legacy, page 36-37.


    Dhia asserts that there are pagan influences within the church today. He lists the 25th of december, bell ringing, burning of candles as some of the pagan practices operating in some churches today. In his first post, he states that 'modern scholarship' is not in agreement as to how deeply pagan influences penetratated the worship of the church. He then quotes Artz and lists some of the alleged pagan practices operating within the church, and which pagan religions there were probably derived from.

    First, I checked out Artz's book. I found a couple of discrepancies between the book and Dhia's list. Dhia quotes that 'Bull was slain and the blood wash away sins'. I only found a reference to the bull being slain, no reference to the 'wash away sins' on page 34. Further investigation on the slaying of the bull in actual Mithraism shows it has nothing to do with 'washing away sins'. Also Dhia notes 'Pine tree, for his birthday'. Again, I found no reference to a pine tree. It may be that Dhia has a earlier or later publication of Artz's book, or he may be quoting from another page that I did not read, or Dhia is embellishing Artz's work with his own assumptions.

    With ref. to Artz, Artz, in his intro., admits to addressing quite a large topic, covering a overwhelming body of material. He was right. I think he bit off more than he could chew. I found a glaring error around page 37 (not sure of the exact page) where he says that none of the writers of the gospels were eyewitnesses to Jesus! This leads me to think that Artz's strengths lie elsewhere in his book, not in addressing religion.

    Let's examine Dhia's two lists, one for the Mithraism religion, and one for the cult of Isis (Osiris is a part of that) mystery religion, and see if 'modern scholarship' can provide us with any info on whether or not these practices originated from pagan sources.

    1) 'Dec. 25', - celebration of Christ's birth. No doubt this practice, which began within the church at least a hundred years, (if not more), after Christ's ascension, came from pagan sources. No one knows when Jesus was born. I've heard many theories; some say spring, some say fall, some say summer. I've never heard a winter claim though. One thing is for sure, there is no record of the early church celebrating His birth. This celebration was added much later. Therefore, this celebration is not intrinsic to Christianity. In fact, there are many Christians who advocate the church doing away with the celebration because it is purely commercial.

    2) 'Mithra condemned evil'. So did Muhammad. Would Dhia say that Islam is also pagan because Muhammad condemned evil? Of course not. Many great religious leaders (Confucious, Buddha, Isaiah, Ghandi, etc) condemned evil. It's not accurate to say that Christianity has pagan influences because Jesus condemned evil.

    3) 'Practice Baptism'. As I've researched Mithraism, I found that early Mithraism's 'baptism' was either ablutions or sprinkling, not immersion. (Later Mithraism baptisms included a baptism in blood, borrowed from another pagan religion - (Ency. of Religion, Corpus Pub.). John the Baptist practised immersion, so did the disciples and the early church. It can clearly be shown that John's baptism is partly derived from Judaistic practices. Converts from pagan religions were admitted to Judaism only after fulfilling certain obligations, one was taking a ritual bath that symbolized the removal of impurities of the gentile background (Baker's Ency. of the Bible). Further, the N.T. theology of baptism shows that it parallels the Noahic covenant as an antitype of the flood (1 Pet 3:20,21). The N.T. also relates baptism to the Abrahimic covenant of circumcision (Col 2, 11,12). Clearly, N.T. baptism has no roots in Mithraism.

    On the other hand, Mithraism was an evolving religion. Its roots lie in Indo-Iranian religions, predating Zoroastrianism (ency. Brit.). As it evolved thru the centuries, it took various forms and embellishments. However, there were always several key elements that did not change. The considered age of Mithraism religion borrowed elements from Christianity (ency. of Religion) and not the other way around.

    4) 'Sacred bread and wine'. This probably comes from Mithra and the sun god feasting together - eating bread, wine, and meat, after Mithra sacrificed the bull. Afterwards, Mithra ascends thru the seven heavens. (Now who else claimed to ascend thru the seven heavens? ...hmmnn - Muhammad!.) Also note, that the bull was not resurrected. Mithra and the sun god work together to capture the bull and then Mithra sacrifices it. A raven, a snake, a scorpion, and other animals are also taking part in a mysterious fashion. From the bulls death, other life springs forth. Also, the most extensive reference I have on Mithraism says the Mithraism sacrament is bread and 'water', not wine. Ency. of Religion and Ethics, Ed. by J. Hastings.

    The N.T. use of bread and wine clearly come from the Jewish passover. This practice is very basic, I shouldn't need to address it further. I leave it to Dhia and others to research that for themselves. The bread and wine used in the N.T. are not from pagan sources.

    5) 'Was identified with a hero/savior'. Not in the sense that Jesus was a savior. Mithra was a warrior. The religion was basically a soldiers religion. Few women if any, followed the religion. I assume it was difficult for women to become initiates into Mithraism. Mithra's identity becomes more embellished as time goes on. He was originally the god of war, friendship, and light, (Ency of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings).

    So in this case, the N.T. 'Savior' is clear from the Mithraism concept of 'savior'. Jesus chose submission to God - in going to the cross. Jesus was not a conqueroring warrior/savior.

    6) 'Bull was slain' ('blood wash away sins' wasn't found). The slaying of the bull was to promote fertility and ensure the annual renewal of life on earth. (Ency of Religion and Ethics). This reference has no relation to the N.T. doctrine of Christ's sacrifice. No atonement or forgiveness of sins is associated with the bulls death.

    All in all, Mithraism was a synthetic, evolving religion. When it came into contact with Christianity, a sharp discord appeared between the two. Mithraism never gained a substantial foothold in the Roman empire prior to Christianity's rise;

    "No Mithraic monument can be dated earlier than the end of the 1st century a.d., and even the more extensive excavations at Pompeii, buried beneath the ashes, have not so much produced a single image of the god" M.J. Vermaseren 'Mithras; the Secret God'.

    On to Osiris.

    Most in this list are are not mentioned in the N.T. They are practiced by various churches, but they are not intrinsic to Christianity. Many of the churches I've been a member of do not have bell ringing, sprinkling of water, or candle burning (a catholic friend said that they have 3 uses of candles - one to represent the light of the gospel, one to represent the presense of God, and one as a vigil on behalf of dearly departed family members. An Orthodox friend said that these practices are traceable to early Christianity. Their religious symbolism is usable by anyone. Baptism has already been addressed and established as an authentic Christian rite.

    On the other hand, Islam has also incorporated practices which are not from pure Islam. In many places in the Muslim world there are Muslims who have an 'eye' used as a good-luck charm, or to ward off evil spirits. They are suspended from their rear view mirrors, jewerly pins are made of them, and they appear as wall decorations, and drawings in many Muslim homes. I've read the Qur'an, and some of Bukhari's hadith, and I don't recall a reference to the 'eye'. I was told by some Muslims that it really was a type of witchcraft, but many Muslims there believe that it has some good power. Muslims, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this practice has no root in real Islam?

    Also, there are the prayer beads. This practice comes from the Indo religions, where Hindus and Buddhists used prayer beads to help their prayers. I believe it later spread to the Islamic lands. If memory serves me correctly, the Muslims have 99 beads on their rosary, one each for the names of Allah. Everywhere I went, I saw devout Muslims, nervously fiddling the beads. I saw men in arguments, business transactions, watching t.v., talking, etc., all the while fiddling the prayer beads. Their actions reminded me of people who believe in rubbing a rabbit's foot for good luck.

    I don't know of any reference in the Qur'an to using a prayer rosary. Is there one? I don't think this pagan practice is intrinsic to Islam, but was added later?


    Note the shift in similar concepts.

    Note the title of Pappas' book "Jesus' Tomb in India". Hmmnn, who is it that claims Jesus died in India? Ahmed what's his name? I wonder if Pappas follows Mirza. Is Dhia an Ahmaddi?

    Also note that Pappas is a prof. I've interacted with enough professors to know that they all aren't cranked up to what they're supposed to be. They have great jobs though.

    Here Pappas misleads his readers. "The Mithraic doctine of the soul is intimately linked with the myth of creation and with Platonic philosophy. "As in the Timaeus, the soul of man came down from heaven. It crossed the seven spheres of the planets, taking on their vices and was finally caught within the body." From ency. Brit. Clearly, this concept is not Christian.

    Islam also believes in the immortality of the soul... would Dhia claim that this Islamic belief is rooted in paganism? Note, that Jesus' words declare the immortality of the soul "...and these shall go into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" Matt 25:46. The O.T. also relates that the soul is immortal - Ezk 32:17-31.

    So Pappas missed the mark on this point.

    Again, Islam is also dualistic. Is it pagan Dhia? Judaism is dualistic, Christ taught dualism, i.e. good and evil. It is left to the student as an excercise ......

    same as above.

    Islam also teaches these things.... Dhia, did you ever consider that by saying these were pagan beliefs, synthesized into Christianity, that you also hoist Islam's fundamental teachings on your own petard?

    In all of the readings I've done on Mithra, none state he was born of a virgin. Further, they state that Mithra was born of a cave.. of the rock itself, as a god, not a man. Ency. of Religion and Ethics, J. Hastings Editor.

    Sunday became the chr. day of worship. Ref. Rev. 1:10 "The Lord's Day", i.e. sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. The greek suggests that it was a formal designation of the Churches' worship day. Also note Acts 20:7. Jesus' resurrection day is concrete enough to justify it as the Christian day of worship.

    Where did he rival Jesus in popularity? Not in the roman empire. On the whole, the masses chose Christianity over Mithraism. Mithraism had few women devotees. The ency. of Religion and Ethics states that Mithraism "took no hold on the western provinces".

    "He died and was resurrected in order to become a messenger god, an intermediary between man and the good god of light, and the leader of the forces of righteousness against the dark forces of the god evil"

    I read of no account or of any variation of Mithraism where Mithra dies and is resurrected in order to become a messenger god. Mithra was born as a powerful god. The attributes to him as a leader of the forces of righteousness are ascribed to him in much later versions of the religion.

    So, all in all, Pappas seems to have done some shallow work. Many of his points could also be used to assert that Islam has roots in Mithraism. Pappas may have his own agenda; he presented Mithraism as a similar to Christianity, but there is no real basis for it. The deeper you look, the more different they become.


    Lets check Jesus' words on that: "The kingdom of God is within you" - Luke 17:21 - indicates that the kingom of God is spiritual, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" - Matt 5:10. There's a whole lot more. Robertson should have studied the N.T. before he tried to infuse his notions into it.

    Jesus always taught that salvation was spiritual. Eternal life was to be lived in heaven, not earth.

    As we have seen, they were Christian, not Mithraic. An introductory study of Mithraism shows that it evolved by synthisizing facets of many other religions. There was an Indo Mithraism, a pre-Zoroastrian Persian Mithraism, and a post-Zoroastrian Persian Mithraism, an Armenian Mithraism, eastern & northern europe Mithraism, Babylonin, Chaldean, Greek, Roman, Asia Minor, etc. Over a span of hundreds of years, Mithra evolved into many kinds of gods, having many traits. Traits given to him by the specific regions people.

    I'll accept your point on christmas day, it was never celebrated by the early church, and is not found in our scriptures. And, no doubt, as converts came into the church, they brought some of their culture with them.

    Sunday was already established as a Christian day of worship well before large numbers of mithraic or manichean converts were brought into the church. Note here that DHia has the 'pope' fighting against Mithraism. The early Christians totally rejected Mithraism. Most of the traits mentioned in the rest of the paragraph were synthisized by the Mithraists into their faith, not the other way around.


    Artz is addressing a wide variety of pagan religions. There are similarites to both Islam and Christianity. However, Artz paints with too large a brush. There was no resurrection of either Mithra or the bull in Mithraism. Osiris was not resurrected, his spirit went to the underworld, where he reigned, but his dismembered/reconstituted body remained in the grave. Further, all of the other 'mystery' religions always referred to mythic gods ... none having actually lived as a man. Jesus was an historic figure. The latest Mithraism that mentions rebirth arrives on the scene at the end of the 2nd century a.d., far too late to have influenced Christianity's doctrine.

    A few of the other differences are (Taken from 'A Ready Defense' by Josh McDowell):

  • none of the other many pagan gods died for someone else
  • none ever died for sin
  • Jesus death was an actual event in history, the other deaths were mythical
  • Jesus died voluntarily, the other gods died against their will (Osiris was murdered by his brother, and later dismembered, then reconsituted by Isis). The Mithraic bull was killed against his will; Mithra and the sun worked together to kill him.
  • Jesus' death was not a defeat, but a triumph.

    So while Artz denotes similarities, they are not similar in detail, or cause. Artz's glosses should be taken as that; simple references, lacking in detail.


    No one has presented any evidence of Christianity being tainted by pagan religions. There are similarities in theology; many religions including Islam and paganism, have similar concepts. However, similarity does not denote root. The Christian faith came out of Judaism, it is the New Covenant between God and man. All textual and historical evidence shows that it has no pagan roots.

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