A gospel story older than the Gospels
An article that appeared on MyNews by Marcus Steenberg recently caught my attention. Steenberg asserts that “Jesus of Nazareth is none other than a fictional reincarnation of the much older Horus of Egypt.” He offers a long list of parallels between the Gospels and the myth of Horus.
According to Steenberg, Horus was born of a virgin as the only begotten son of god. His mother was Meri (Mary). He had a foster father and was descended from a royal line. He was born in ignoble circumstances. His birth was foretold to his mother by an angel and heralded by a star. He was born in December, and his birth was announced by angels and witnessed by shepherds, as well as three superior (wise) beings. A king tried to have him killed when he was a baby, but his mother was warned by supernatural means to hide herself. At age twelve, he came of age by means of a spiritual ritual. Nothing is known of his life between ages twelve and thirty. He was baptised in a river by someone known as the Baptiser who is later beheaded. He is taken from a desert to a mountain, where he is tempted and resist. He had twelve disciples, walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored the sight of the blind, stilled the sea by his power and raised a man from the dead. He was transfigured on a mountain, and his most famous sermon is called the Sermon on the Mount. He died from exposure by crucifixion, and was crucified with two thieves. He descended into hell and was resurrected three days later, which was announced by women. He is to rule in the future for a thousand years. His main role is saviour of humanity. He is called the God-Man, and his title is KRST or the anointed one. He is also known as the good shepherd, the lamb of God, the bread of life, the son of man, the Word, the fisher, and the winnower. His main symbolic representations are a fish, a beetle, the vine, and a shepherd’s crook.
These parallels are truly astonishing. To think that the story of Jesus could so precisely have been told so many centuries prior to his birth in Bethlehem is incredible. It is undeniable that the Gospel accounts are but a carbon copy of the far more ancient myth of Horus.
At least, that would be the case if the claims made by Steenberg, which are really just regurgitated from information he has gathered around the Internet, are true. When he was first exposed to these parallels, he was shocked and then angered. Evidently, he did not try to verify them, because even a cursory amount of research will show the bulk of the above claims to be pure fiction.
The birth and childhood of Horus
Steenberg claims that Horus was “born of a virgin,” had a “foster father” and a mother named “Meri (or Mary).”
Actually, Horus was the son of the goddess Isis (or possibly Hathor). His mother’s name was not Meri. He was not born of a virgin. The story of his conception, like many stories in Egyptian and Greek mythology, is bizarre. It involves the dismemberment and temporary reincarnation of his father, Osiris, for just long enough to impregnate his mother with a magical phallus. The birth described is supernatural, to be sure, but it is hardly a virgin birth.
Steenberg further claims that Horus was “the only begotten son of god.” It is true that Horus is generally not recognised as having any siblings, but Egyptian mythology has a pantheon of gods, so he certainly cannot be construed as the only son of the one true God.
To argue that Horus was “descended from a royal line” is somewhat true, inasmuch as the gods could be considered royal. He was not, however, a descendant of human royalty, as Jesus was.
Steenberg states simply that Horus was “born in December.” In fact, it can be argued that he was born on 25 December, the day on which Christians traditionally celebrate Jesus’ birth. However, this does not parallel the Gospels, which give no date for the birth of Jesus.
Horus was born in the Nile Delta marshlands, which might be considered ignoble circumstances. According to one branch of mythology, he was raised in secret, and so it might be conceded that we know nothing of his life between twelve and thirty, though specific ages are not given anywhere in the mythology. But while Horus was raised in secret, Jesus was raised very much in the public eye, even if the details of his early life are not recorded. As was customary, he would have worked as a carpenter with Joseph until he commenced his earthly ministry.
There is no reference in Egyptian mythology to Horus birth being foretold to his mother by an angel, or to his birth being heralded by a star. There is likewise no mention of his birth being announced by angels, witnessed by shepherds or witnessed by three superior (wise) beings.
Steenberg claims that a king tried to have Horus killed when he was a baby. It is true that his mother feared that his uncle, Set, would seek his life, and so she fled after she conceived, though it was after Jesus was born, not conceived, that his parents fled to Egypt. There is no indication that Horus’s mother was told by supernatural means to hide herself and her child.
Horus’s coming of age seems to be a reference to one particular version of the mythology in which his coming of age ceremony takes place when he is old enough to produce semen by means of masturbation. No mention is made of a specific age, and Jewish males were known to have their Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen, not twelve.
The adult life and death of Horus
Steenberg contends that Horus, like Jesus, was baptised in a river by someone described as the Baptiser who is later beheaded. This is pure fiction. There is likewise no reference to Horus being taken from a desert to a mountain where he is tempted by resists. The Egyptian mythology tells of a great battle between Horus and Set, but it is nothing like Jesus’ wilderness temptation.
Like Jesus, Horus had twelve disciples, claims Steenberg. The mythologies typically depict Horus as having four semi-god followers and, sometimes, sixteen mortal followers. One ancient funerary text pictures Horus enthroned before twelve figures, which personify the twelve hours of the night, but they are not flesh-and-blood followers like Jesus’ were.
Horus was a god, and so it comes as no surprise that he was capable of performing miracles. There is no reference, however, to specific miracles whereby he walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored the sight of the blind, stilled the sea by his power, or raised the dead. Horus’s transfiguration on a mountain, his Sermon on the Mount and his crucifixion, accompanied by two thieves, is likewise pure imagination. Horus was killed by a scorpion sting.
The resurrection and reign of Horus
Steenberg claims that Horus descended into hell and was resurrected after three days. His resurrection was further announced by women. The Metternich Stela does record Horus’s resurrection, but there is no mention of hell, three days or a female witness. The primary mythology has Horus eventually merging with Re, the sun god, and therefore “dying” every night and “rising” every morning. There is likewise no reference to Horus reigning for a thousand years.
Horus might be considered a saviour of humanity, and since the pharaohs were considered to be living incarnations of Horus, he might even be called a god-man. While the word “KRST” is often found on inscriptions depicting Horus, the Egyptian word seems to be a description of burial rather than a title ascribed to the god. He is nowhere called “the good shepherd,” “the lamb of God,” “the bread of life,” “the son of man,” “the Word,” “the fisher,” or “the winnower.”
Steenberg lists Horus’ main symbols as the fish, the beetle, the vine and the shepherd’s crook. These are all Christian symbols found either in the Gospels or in early church history. Horus’s primary symbol, however, is the famed Eye of Horus. The crook was a common symbol of kingship in ancient Egypt, and Osiris was frequently depicted holding a crook. Horus, however, is not really associated so much with the crook.
Horus’ identification as the vine is likewise sketchy. It is true that vineyards in ancient Egypt often had names, many of which had religious connotations, such “Horus Dja,” which means “the Beverage of Horus.” There is no indication in the actual mythology, however, that he referred to himself as the vine.
The real similarities
At first blush, the similarities claimed by Steenberg are startling. But a cursory investigation reveals that there is really very little to them. The real similarities between Horus and Jesus (as recorded in the Gospels) are as follows: Both were only sons, descended from a royal line (though in very different ways), were born in ignoble circumstances, had enemies who wanted them dead, performed miracles, and were raised from the dead. The list is far shorter than the one with which we began.
The question might still be asked, ought we to give credence to the Gospel accounts if elements in them can be credited to far more ancient religious stories? The simple fact is, evidence of similar elements in more ancient religious stories in no way nullifies the truth of the Gospel accounts. Startling similarities between distinct accounts or events sometimes exist.
The Wreck of the Titan is an 1898 novella written by Morgan Robertson. In the novella, the Titan was a triple screw vessel and was described as “unsinkable.” The Titan was the largest craft afloat and the considered greatest work of men. The Titan carried only 24 lifeboats, as few as law allowed, which was less than half of her necessary capacity. On an April night in the North Atlantic, four hundred miles from Newfoundland, the Titan struck an iceberg on the starboard side while travelling at 25 knots. The unsinkable Titan sank with more than half of her 2,500 passengers drowning.
The Titanic tragedy occurred fourteen years later, but the similarities are startling. Is this coincidence, or was the Titanic simply a myth based on an earlier story told by Morgan Robertson?
Reconciling the similarities
The basic claim of Steenberg and a great many others is that the stories are similar enough to warrant discounting the Gospel accounts. If the Egyptian stories are just myths, why should we not consider the Gospel accounts to be the same?
Humanists tell us that early humans were superstitious and polytheistic. They worshipped everything they could see. Anything they could not understand was ascribed to the gods. But as humans began learning and advancing, and as they began understanding things scientifically, they started to eliminate their gods. Monotheism came about as gods were slowly eliminated until only one was left standing, perhaps to explain the few things that men still could not explain. Ancient man’s need for god, and the limited creativity of humans, explains the existence of similar deities in so many ancient religions.
The Bible, however, tells us very differently. According to Scripture, it is because humans suppressed the knowledge of the true God that gods of their own making appeared. Humans, unwilling to submit to God, began creating gods whom they could ultimately control (Romans 1:18–25). Since humankind was exposed at the beginning to the true God, it is hardly surprising that their traditions borrowed concepts from the true God to incorporate into their own mythical traditions.
The myth of Horus is dead. Christianity, however, continues to thrive. Why? Because, unlike the myth of Horus, the Gospel accounts are reasonable and verifiable.