Some people claim that the death and resurrection of Jesus is simply a classical theme that appears in most ancient religions, especially the mystery religions. These motifs were simply translated in Jewish terms with Jesus. How much truth is there in that?
First I would like to say that the claim of many dying and rising gods is very exaggerated. There are very few ancient religions that have this. It is more about people trying to force Christian concepts on unrelated religions.
Let us assume for a minute (even though it is not true) that there were many contemporary religions that had a crucified god-man similar to Jesus. Would that be evidence against Christianity? There is a huge difference. The story of Jesus is the only one that is firmly placed in history. We can date the crucifixion of Jesus. We can name some of the historical figures that were involved. Written accounts were recorded during the lifetime of some of the people involved. There is nothing else like that. The other religious accounts took place in the mythical past. They were never meant to be seen as history. In comparison, the authors of the Gospels went out of their way to get their readers to see this as history.
The crucifixion of Jesus is most definitely history rather than mystery.
In a recent post on CNN, Jay Parini talks about the resurrection. He notes that there are some differences between the Gospel accounts and that the actual resurrection is not described. These observations are true as far as they go. I actually think the differences help to show that the Gospels have independent testimony rather than being straight copies of each other. It is true that, unlike the Gospel of Peter, the canonical Gospels do not describe the actual resurrection.
Parini concludes, “For the most part, his appearances retain a dreamlike quality, suggesting that Jesus didn’t want anyone to assume that whatever happened to him occurred in ordinary time and space.” Whatever the resurrection was, it was not about Jesus physically walking out of the tomb. It was more about the disciples thinking with a resurrection paradigm.
Just because the actual resurrection is not described does not mean that there was no physical resurrection. Despite Parini’s claim that Scripture is not clear, it is clear that Jesus died and that Jesus was alive a couple of days later. That seems to lead naturally to a real resurrection. The list of eyewitnesses, which Parini points to, also suggests that there was a physical resurrection. It is far from just a vision based on grief of a few friends. Jesus did indeed rise form the dead in time and space.
Every year it comes up about whether Christians should celebrate Easter or not. People have seen parallels in pagan religions and have concluded that Easter should be forgotten. I think that some of the parallels have been overstated, but for the sake of argument, let us assume that all the claims are true. Let us say that it was named after a pagan goddess, was timed according to a pagan date, that it originally was a celebration of pagan hopes of renewal and that it was filled with all kinds of other pagan stuff. Does this make Easter something to avoid?
I think we need to get some perspective. Does any Christian attempt to celebrate the original pagan elements? Since most Christians don’t even know about the parallels, that is unlikely. What is it that most Christians are consciously thinking about at Easter? Most would be thinking of Jesus’ death on the cross, his atoning sacrifice, the mourning of the disciples and the resurrection of Jesus. I cannot see anything sinful in celebrating our hope in Christ. As far as I am concerned, biblical truth of the crucifixion and resurrection trumps any supposed pagan origins that have been buried for centuries. The church has long been active in Christianizing what was there before and I hope we keep doing it.