Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth
By John G. Jackson (Originally published in 1941), www.nbufront.org
Part One: Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth
The cardinal doctrines of the Christian religion are (1) the Fall of Man and (2) the Atonement. There are liberal Christian apologists who no longer subscribe to a literal belief in the Fall of Man. They have relegated Adam and Eve to the realm of Mythology. These liberals are opposed by orthodox apologists, who declare that belief in the Atonement implies belief in the Fall of Man. Logic seems to be on the orthodox side. As T. W. Doane has pointed out:
These two dogmas cannot be separated from each other. If there was no Fall, there is no need of an atonement, and no Redeemer is required. Those, then, who consent in recognizing in Christ Jesus a God and Redeemer, and who, notwithstanding, cannot resolve upon admitting the story of the Fall of Man to be historical, should exculpate themselves from the reproach of inconsistency.1
Anyone who is familiar with the elements of the higher criticism knows that there are two stories of the Creation and Fall of Man in the book of Genesis. The first, or Priestly Account, was written in the fifth century B.C. and extends from the beginning of Genesis through verse 3 of chapter 2. The second, or Jehovistic Account, begins with verse 4 of chapter 2, and extends through the third chapter. This version of the story was written in the eight century B.C. It is interesting to note that the second narrative is about three hundred years older than the first. In the following comparison of these two tales, the Priestly version is designated by the letter P, and the Jehovistic version by the letters J.E. These documents differ in six important points, to wit:
Orthodox Christians claim that both of these stories must be believed, even though they contradict each other at numerous points. There have been eminent Christian authorities, however, who have rejected a literal view of Genesis. The celebrated Church father, Bishop Origen wrote as follows:
- P: The earth emerges from the waters. It is saturated with moisture.
J.E.: The world is at first a dry plain. There was no vegetation, because "the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth."2
- P: Birds and beasts are created before man.
J.E.: Man is created before the birds and beasts.
- P: All fowls that fly are made out of the waters.
J.E.: The Fowls of the air are made out of the ground.
- P: Man is created in the image of god.
J.E.: Man is made out of the dust of the ground. It is only after eating of the forbidden fruit that god said, "Behold, the man is become as one of us."3
- P.: Man is made lord of the whole earth.
J.E: Man is merely placed in the garden to dress it and keep it.
- P.: Man and woman are created together, as the closing and completing work of the whole creation.
J.E.: Man is created first, then beasts and birds are, which are named by man. Finally, the woman is made out of a rib of the man.
What man of sense will agree with the statement that the first, second and third days, in which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars? What man is found such an idiot as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise like a husbandman? I believe every man must hold these things for images under which a hidden sense is concealed.4
St. Augustine5 declared that "There is no way of preserving the first chapter of Genesis without impiety, and attributing things to God unworthy of Him." There is, of course, nothing unique about these Hebraic Eden myths. They were known among the so-called heathens thousands of years before the Bible was invented. Two very fine examples are cited by Sir Godfrey Higgins, the English orientalist, as follows:
Mr. George Smith, of the Department of Oriental Antiquity of the British Museum, discovered Assyrian terra-cotta tablets in the ruins of Nineveh, dating from 1500 to 2000 B.C., which give not only the story of the creation of Man, but narratives of the Deluge and the Tower of Babel as well. In referring to an engraving on an Assyrian cylinder, Mr. Smith notes that:
- "Another striding instance is recorded by the very intelligent traveler (Wilson) regarding a representation of the fall of our first parents, sculptured in the magnificent temple of Ipsambul in Nubia. He says that a very exact representation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is to be seen in that cave, and that the serpent climbing round the tree is especially delineated, and the whole subject of the tempting of our first parents most accurately exhibited."6
- "A drawing, brought by Colonel Coombs, from a sculptured column in a cave-temple in the South of India, represents the first pair at the foot of the ambrosial tree, and a serpent entwined among the heavily-laden boughs, presenting to them some of the fruit from his mouth."7
One striking and important specimen of early type in the British Museum collection has two figures sitting one on each side of a tree, holding out their hands to the fruit, while at the back of one (the woman) is scratched a serpent … thus it is evident that a form of the Fall, similar to that of Genesis, was known in early times in Babylonia.8
In the original Babylonian Eden myth, as translated from a Sumerian tablet by Professor Edward Chiera, there is the story of a great conflict among the gods. They cannot decide whether man ought to be created or not. A wise old reptile, the dragon Tiamat, opposed the creation of the human race. The dragon fought against the great god Bel. Finally the god overcame the dragon by blasting him with thunderbolts. Opposition having been crushed, man was created. This conflict between Bel and the dragon bears a close analogy to the story of the Revolution in Heaven recorded in the Apocalypse:
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
The myths of the Fall are based on man's yearning for immortality. Due to the habit of certain species of snakes periodically shedding their skins, primitive man got the idea that serpents were immortal. The natural vanity of man told our distant ancestors that the gods had intended the gift of eternal life for humanity alone. So it was conceived that the serpent had stolen the precious prize from the human race. The biblical version of the Fall of Man is incomplete. The role of the serpent in not explained, and the Tree of Life is not given due prominence in the story. The original story, which we are able to piece together from fragments gathered from the mythology of many lands, reads as follows:
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.9
God placed the first man and woman in a garden of delights. In this garden were two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Death (called the Tree of Knowledge in the Bible). Man had the choice of eating the fruit of the Tree of life and becoming immortal, or of eating the fruit of the Tree of Death and becoming mortal. God sent the serpent to tell Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life, so that they might live forever, and to warn them against eating of the fruit of the Tree of Death, for if they should eat this forbidden fruit they would surely die, and this course would descend to their children from generation to generation. The wily serpent, however, reversed the message. He told the first human pair that they would obtain immortality by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Death. Unfortunately Adam and Eve believed the diabolical snake, ate the forbidden fruit, and as a consequence were expelled from Eden and became mortal. The sly reptile, on the other hand, helped himself to the fruit of the Tree of Life and gained immortal life for himself and his kind.
For a masterly study of myths concerning the Fall of Man, the reader is referred to volume 1 of Sir James George Frazer's Folk-Lore in the Old Testament.10 Frazer holds that the Hebrews got their version, directly or indirectly from Africa:
Even if the story should hereafter be found in a Sumerian version this would not absolutely exclude the hypothesis of its African origin, since the original home of the Sumerians is unknown. … In favor of the African origin of the myth it may be observed that the explanation of the supposed immortality of serpents, which probably furnished the kernel of the story in its original form, has been preserved in several African versions, while it has been wholly lost in the Hebrew version; from which it is natural to infer that the African versions are older and nearer to the original than the corresponding but incomplete narratives in Genesis.11
The hypothetical first man of the Bible is rightly named Adam, since the word Adam, which means "Man," was reputedly made out of Adamah, which means the "Ground" or "Earth." Similarly among the ancient Romans, man was called Homo, because he was supposedly made from Humus, the Earth. According to an ancient Egyptian myth, Knoumou, the father of the gods, moulded the earliest men out of clay on a potter's wheel. We are informed by the Chaldean priest, Berosus, that the great god Bel decapitated himself, and that the other gods mixed his blood with clay, and out of it fashioned the first man. In the Greek mythology, Prometheus is depicted as manufacturing men from clay at Panopeus.12
Back to Historical Views
- T. W. Doane, Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with Those of Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also Their Origin and Meaning (New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1882), p. 17.
- Genesis 2:5
- Genesis 3:22.
- Origen (A.D. 185?–254?), Greek writer, teacher and church father, On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth (Magnolia, MA: Peter Smith).
- St. Augustine (353–430), church father, bushop of Hippo (396–430), The Confessions of St. Augustine and City of God (New York: Dorset Books, 1961).
- Godfrey Higgins, Esq., Anacalypsis: An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; or an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions, 2 vols. (new York: J. W. Bouton, 1878), vol. 1, p.403.
- Higgins, Anacalypsis, vol. 1, pp. 403–404.
- George Smith, The Chaldean Account of Genesis (New York: 1876), p. 91.
- Revelations 12:7–9.
- Sir James George Frazer, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend, and Law, 3 vols. (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1918).
- Sir James George Frazer, Worship of Nature, Gifford Lectures 1924–25 (1926), P. 223–244.
- For scholarly studies of these creation tales the curious reader is referred to Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, by Sir J. G. Frazer, and Forgery in Christianity: A Documented Record of the Foundations of the Christian Religion, by Major Joseph Wheless (Moscow, Idaho: "Psychiana," 1930).