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Moonsray T. wrote in asking about possible pagan origins of Christianity, presenting the pagan god Glycon as a possible parallel for Jesus. Lita Cosner responds, showing that not only is Glycon not a pagan parallel deity for Christ, but that Christianity is just the sort of religion that would not be invented in the ancient world.
I read January’s Was Christianity plagiarized from pagan myths?
You seem not to have mentioned this other theory of Christian-Pagan connections, which I found on the web. This other theory seems more reasonable to me. Is it a theory Christians can refute?
TIA [Thanks in advance]
[Moonsray had pasted the following text into the foot of her email.]
“Glycon was the son of the God Apollo, who …
… came to Earth through a miraculous birth,
… was the Earthly manifestation of divinity,
… came to earth in fulfillment of divine prophecy,
… gave his chief believer the power of prophecy,
… gave believers the power to speak in tongues,
… performed miracles,
… healed the sick,
… raised the dead.
“Now, nobody supposes Jesus was a copycat copy of Glycon. And like you, I know Glycon was a phony, made up God. That’s the point. Glycon was made up to fit the religious stereotypes of his age. What we’re going to do is turn the works around. We’re going to start with Glycon, and find in Him exactly what the stereotypes were. Then we’ll see how those stereotypes line up with our Jesus stories.
“There is no comprehensive, consistent analysis of the ancient evidence that can conclude anything other than that, like the Glycon stories, our Jesus stories—the prophecy fulfilling, miraculously born Son of God, who healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave his believers the power of prophecy and speaking in tongues—like the Glycon stories, our Jesus stories were also made up to fit the religious stereotypes of the age.
“When he invented the snake God, Glycon, Alexander’s purpose was not to reproduce another Pagan god. Glycon is not a copycat, myth by myth copy of any other God. Alexander’s purpose was to separate the faithful from their money; he did that by keeping Glycon’s story as close to their religious ideas as he could—by inventing a new manifestation of an old God, and by trimming the new God out with all the goodies the ancients associated with Gods. Prophesies made and fulfilled. Divine birth. God-sent dreams. Heaven. Hell. Miracles: healing the sick, raising the dead. Back then, when people invented new Gods, these are the things they included.
“When the first Christians wrote about Jesus, they included in their stories all the goodies the ancients associated with Gods. Prophesies made and fulfilled. Divine birth. God-sent dreams. Heaven. Hell. Miracles. Healing the sick, raising the dead. Like the ancient God Glycon, the ancient God Jesus is a product of His time and place.”
Dear Ms. T./ Dear Moonsray,
J.P. Holding has done a lot of writing on supposed parallels to Christ; see this hub page which analyzes many different pagan gods which are thought to parallel Jesus in some important ways. What is striking is how little substance there is to these claims, and if there is a similarity, it is usually something too common to be significant, or it was an instance of the pagan religion copying from Christianity centuries after the earthly ministry of Christ.
All these supposed parallels that are asserted about Glycon would be very impressive if true, so I took the time to do just a little research about Glycon. Glycon was, at least initially, an actual snake who was worshipped by its devotees as a god. The ‘divine prophecy’ was that of Alexander the Great, who foretold a new incarnation of Asclepius, and I can only guess that he was also the believer who was given the gift of prophecy, since I can find no other mention of prophecy in connection with Glycon. ‘Divine birth’ is rather a general way of putting it; this could encompass any birth involving any god. For instance, Zeus had several affairs with human women which could be termed ‘divine births’, but hardly parallels with the virgin birth. In this case, according to the legend, Alexander produced a goose egg, cut it open, revealing the snake, which grew to the size of a man within a week. Hardly a match for the virgin birth of Christ! There’s no evidence for the other ‘parallels’ at all. It looks like Glycon, unsurprisingly, isn’t a parallel for Christ at all.
Christ’s followers couldn’t have made up what they wrote about Him; they wrote too early for it to be legend or myth; the eyewitnesses were still alive and could testify about what had happened. All the writings of the New Testament have been dated to the first century, all except Revelation almost definitely before AD 70 (see Gospel Dates and Reliability). This means that we have the majority, maybe all, of the New Testament written within 40 years of the death of Christ, with the first letters of Paul being written less than 20 years later.
Furthermore, the Gospels don’t look like fiction; it’s not the sort of religion someone in that age would make up. The individuals who will later become the first Church leaders are shown to be dunderheads over and over again, whose greatest accomplishment is their unrelenting obtuseness. Mark especially documents failure after failure. In fact, Christianity is a study in how not to start a religion. The only way such a religion could have succeeded is if it were true, and if it had the power of God behind it. I believe both are true of Christianity.
Creation Ministries International