14 April 2009

The Proto-Easter Myth

Key elements of the Passion story have close parallels in the Sumerian myth of Inanna from two thousand years before the Christian era, and a myth from the same era relating to her husband Dumuzi, who is the "prototype of the non-aggressive, non-heroic male; he cries easily; he is the opposite of the warrior-god in the ancient pantheon."

Inanna and Jesus both travel to a big city, where they are arrested by soldiers, put on trial, convicted, sentenced to death, stripped of their clothes, tortured, hung up on display, and die. And then, after three days, they are resurrected. . . .

[W]e know that [Dumuzzi] is resurrected, but unlike Jesus, who dies and is resurrected once, he is imagined to die and be resurrected each year. There are other major differences. However, they both are tortured and die violent deaths after being betrayed by a close friend, who accepts a bribe from his enemies. They both have a father who is a god and a mother who is human. Dumuzi's father, the god Enki, also has many similarities to Yahweh, the father of Jesus.

The word "Easter" is also rooted in a German/Anglo-Saxon version of the name of the pagan goddess Inanna (also known as "Ishtar"). And, the old myths aren't entirely dead either. People are still telling new versions of the story of Ishtar.

The implication of these close mythological parallels, of course, is that much of the Biblical Passion story, among a number of stories of the early Christian church, may be a composite of ancient pagan myths. In other words, this suggests that the New Testament Gospel's Passion story is not a literal telling of a historical event that happened during the reign of the Roman empire in the Levant in the first century AD. Many other Christian practices similarly have pagan roots (e.g. communion and certain burial practices).

These myths may have roots even deeper in our history, but the written record of humanity begins with the Sumerians, who also were among the first to farm and have settled urban settlements, rather than living as hunter-gatherers.

The source of these myths in the Jewish community out of which Christianity arose was more likely the influence of recent Jewish exile in Babylonia, in the era during and after the latest writings of the Hebrew Bible, rather than ancient historical roots of the Jewish people. While the Hebrew Bible shows some influences from Sumerian and Egyptian mythology, this Ishtar story is not one of the influences that can be traced to the Torah or other early Jewish traditions. The same period of Jewish exile in Babylonia period helps explain strong Zoroastrian influences on Christian belief (with its focus on a dualistic heaven and hell cosmology, each embodied in spiritual beings) which were not strongly present in Hebrew Bible era Judaism.

1 comment:

Michael Malak said...

The existence of pagan precedence does not imply falsity of Christian practice. The Catholic Church has self-consciously "Christianized" many pagan practices over the millenia.

Not everything in Christianity can be novel. Lack of novelty does not imply lack of authenticity. E.g. there are more than one monotheistic religions, but that does not mean that all monotheism is wrong. Most pagan societies say murder is wrong, but that doesn't imply that God didn't give the Ten Commandments to Moses.

The pagan source of Communion is conferred direcly by the Bible itself. Genesis 14:18 reads "Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram...". Jews claim Melchizedek was Noah's nephew, but there is no evidence in Scripture for this. Many theologians speculate he was either a pagan or a pagan convert to monotheism.