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Praying for Orlando

Summary: Following the tragic shooting in Orlando this past weekend, our teaching team felt the need to respond. In this post, Jocelyn Peirce, who serves on our Next Gen ministry staff, offers perspective and hope at this challenging time.

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My husband gets the news alerts on his iPhone, so when breaking news hits, he’s usually the first one to let me know.

“There was an attack on a nightclub in Paris.”
“There was an attack in an airport in Brussels.”
“There’s a shooting going on in San Bernardino.”

And this past Sunday morning, we woke again to devastating news: “There was a shooting in a nightclub in Orlando last night. They’re not sure what happened. Twenty dead, more wounded. They think it was terrorism. They’re not sure.”

We know more now, but the more we’ve learned the more terrible the news grows. Forty-nine innocent victims, even more wounded, and many facing life-long medical battles. Families mourning, worried, and anxious. First responders who put themselves in harm’s way are left traumatized. An entire community has had to face the reality: It happened here. And the rest of us are left feeling, again, it could have happened here.

And more specifically, we know that this attack targeted an LGBT gathering place, and there are LGBT individuals, families, and communities who are reeling. Pulse has been known as a place where people who felt like they didn’t belong could find belonging. It was a place named in honor of the founder’s brother, who died from AIDS, to keep his memory alive: pulse.

We feel the weight of their grief, and we pray for them along with the many others who are struggling in these days after such a terrible act of violence. We pray for the victims and their loved ones, who need comfort in the midst of unspeakable sadness. We pray for the community and the neighbors and schoolkids and the police and doctors. We’re thankful for the police and medical personnel who responded to the call of an active shooter with skill and without hesitation. Seeing the images of everyday people who ran to the scene to offer whatever help they could, from a comforting hug to their own blood, makes us resolve to do the same if the need ever arises.

Still we are left wondering, what now? Where is God in all of this, and how do we respond? Our teaching series on Sunday mornings this year has been all about Jesus, and our question at the end of this series has been: where is Jesus now? We’ve been exploring the notion that Jesus is here, right now. He is present in our sorrow and in our fear and in our questions. The book of Revelation, the mysterious book at the very end of the Bible, uses a strange picture to describe him, calling Jesus both lion and lamb. He is the lion whose strength brings justice on earth, putting things right. Yet he is also the lamb, who in the face of violence responds so differently than our instinct would tell us to. He lays down his life, showing us the way of love and mercy and grace.

The coming weeks will bring more information, even as life goes on and our news feeds shift away from this coverage to new headlines. We want to do something, but what? The words may seem trite, but they are powerful: in this moment, we love, unconditionally. We sit with our friends in the pain and grief they are experiencing. We choose a posture of listening as we encounter people who may have different experiences than us. And above all, I think our beliefs, the picture we have of Jesus as the Lamb, call us to stand with the LGBT community against hatred and persecution and rejecting violence against any community. We choose the way of the Lamb.

We reach out to our LGBT friends and neighbors. We stand with those who have suffered loss and trauma. We listen.

And we pray.

Is the Story of Jesus Plagiarized?

Summary: In his first sermon in our "Really?!?" teaching series, Pastor Tim Ghali explored our doubts and tensions concerning the historicity of Jesus, asking if the story of Jesus is made up by the disciples and/or if it’s a plagiarized legend taken from other ancient near east stories. This blog post goes into more detail about those theories, specifically the Horus-Jesus connection.

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Note: If you checked the blog after hearing my sermon on 1/3/16, this is the follow-up post to that sermon that I mentioned in the message. If you have not heard the message, glad you’re here! You can find the sermon context to this post in our sermons archive.

Every so often we have a conversation or hear a lecture or watch something that tells us that all we know about Jesus is a lie. Sometimes it’s not that overt, sometimes it is. 

One such example is contained Bill Maher’s “Religulous" movie where he makes a case that the story of Jesus is a legend that has been borrowed or plagiarized from ancient near east myth stories like Horus, Osiris, Mithra and Krishna. In one particular scene, he focuses on the comparisons of Jesus and Horus.

He says, “Written in 1280 B.C., the Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water. He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.” Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first, and after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected.”

It’s a heavy scene, the Christian faith is belittled, the sarcasm is thick and you are left with asking yourself, “Have I been lied to this whole time?” “What do we say to all of this?” “Is the story of Jesus a plagiarized legend that has carried on the over the years?” 

Maybe you’ve experienced this in a university setting, or while watching a movie, or reading, or conversing. Suddenly every doubt is validated.

I spent a good bit of time in the sermon. I happen to be a Christian-Egyptian and while that doesn’t mean that I am an expert on ancient Egyptology, I have a vested interest given my background. Further, a good number of my friends are familiar with this and similar arguments and find themselves seeking perspective. I know I was not able to address all the specifics in the sermon and thought a blog post might be helpful for those interested in unpacking more and in having a summary of the points discussed. 

Here’s the breakdown of the case and the points in response: 

“Written in 1280 B.C., the Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus. Horus is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother.”

Egyptian mythology explains that Horus had two parents Osiris and Isis. 

Osiris is killed by his rival, his brother, Se (or Seth), the god of the desert, and Osiris’ body is dismembered and scattered throughout Egypt and thrown into the Nile River. Osiris’ childless and grief-stricken wife Isis, is so distraught that she gathers his limbs and head, reattaches them somehow and long story short, is able to conceive a son with her husband’s corpse (I really wanted to keep a PG rating throughout the sermon, but if you look around online, it’s quite the story and nothing like the Jesus birth story). 

Now, Osiris does not come back to life exactly, instead he becomes the god of the underworld. And their son, Horus in essence becomes Osiris’ replacement and Set’s new enemy.

As we examine the story, we can see how it starts losing its bite. 

For one, this is not a virgin birth story. If you need bring your husband back from the dead, it does not qualify.  It’s not Isis suddenly discovering she is with child and an angel telling her to name him Horus - again, this is nothing like the birth story of Jesus.

“He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer who was later beheaded.”

To borrow from Jon Sorrenson’s work on the subject, There is no character named “Anup the Baptizer” in ancient Egyptian mythology. We get this from the 19th-century English poet and amateur Egyptologist, Gerald Massey who wrote about Egyptian mythology. ‘Amateur Egyptologist’ is putting it politely as he had no formal training, and the Egyptologist community have largely ignored his work. If anything, it makes more sense that Massey borrowed that idea from the gospels and tried to update an ancient story with the John the Baptist piece.

“Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert …” 

In short, no actual, legitimate Egyptologists have verified any of these claims. But we’ll do our best to come to close to what has been found.

Horus and his nemesis Set (or Seth) fought in the desert. But there is no temptation scene similar to how the temptation scene with Jesus and Satan as described in the Bible.

In one ancient account, Horus and Set reconcile their differences. As most know, Jesus and Satan never reconcile.

“… healed the sick, the blind, cast out demons, and walked on water.”

In one account, Horus is poisoned by Seth, dies, and comes back to life with the help of his mother and another god named Thoth. The closest thing to Horus doing any healing however is the Egyptian people created a monument called "The Metternich Stella” that they would pray to in order for their loves ones to be healed. This idea that Horus had this “Jesus type of ministry” walking around Egypt healing, casting out demons, etc. does not exist in the mythology. 

“He raised Asar from the dead. “Asar” translates to “Lazarus.” 

“Asar" does not mean Lazarus, it means “Osiris." And Horus did not raise his father from the dead, his mother Isis did. And he did not really come back to life, but became a new deity, the god of the underworld. A true resurrection story would have him coming to life and helping his wife raise their new son Horus. 

“Oh, yeah, he also had twelve disciples.”

He didn’t. 

In one account, Horus has 4 sub-gods that follow him. In another story he has 16 humans and an untold number of blacksmiths that go into battle with him. The only time twelve of anything shows up is in reference to a mural with twelve reapers but Horus is not included in the mural. 

There is no similarity to Jesus where Horus has 12 disciples/students following him and receiving his teaching, and helping him do the work of his ministry. 

It gets a bit ridiculous after a while and here it may be helpful to understand a bit of how ancient Egyptian mythology is organized. Unlike the way we often tell stories today, there is no origin narrative that informs the later narratives as the way Maher describes. There are countless sources, none more official than the other. So instead of an origin story informing other stories they created new stories, often with the same characters to be taught in each dynasty. And often the dynasties contradict the other. The closest and most reliable thing to an origin story that we have was compiled by a Greek scholar named Plutarch born 46 AD and died 127 AD. It’s worth noting that the most reliable exposition we have of the Osiris narrative happens thousands of years after the stories were told and was compiled by a Greek historian. It should also be noted that its accuracy has been long debated among the Egyptologist community but it is the earliest and closest compilation of origin stories they have. 

“… Horus was crucified first, and after three days, two women announced Horus, the savior of humanity, had been resurrected… "

Quick history for sake of clarification - Crucifixion is an ancient practice but the Romans perfected it. This way of making a cross and nailing someone to it, often after flogging and making the person carry their cross, again was Roman style of execution. The ancient Egyptians did not practice that form. What we can find crucifixion practiced by ancient cultures by tying someone up to a tree and allowing them to die by asphyxiation, dehydration, or the elements. 

Sources differ on what actually happened to Horus. As mentioned in the previous section, the dynasty stories often conflict with one another. Some have him stung by a scorpion, some poisoned and coming back to life with the help of his mother and another god. There is no evidence of Horus being crucified. The more well-know narratives do not have him dying at all, but eventually becoming the son god Ra.

In one century Egyptian mythology described Horus as the god of sky, in a different century he’s the god of war (likely because Egypt is at war) but he’s never been described as the “savior of humanity.” There is also no mention of three days, two women, etc. 

With no death, we would dismiss the resurrection claim as well. Outside of when it was suggested on a message board something to the effect of resurrection being "the sun dies each night and resurrects in the morning" (apologies for not being able to find this link at the time of this posting but frankly, this feels like the biggest stretch of all).

It gets a bit awkward here as ancient polytheistic religion is a different world for us, especially as we are trying to compare this to the story of Jesus, whom virtually all historians believe he existed. Whether or not he is the Son of God is another question.

Simply put again, there are not any legitimate sources that validate Maher’s claims. The real key is finding these similarities in the original ancient Egyptian mythological sources and validated by actual Egyptologists, which is further complicated as there are so many variations of the same story. Thus, we can conclude there is no real evidence suggesting that the story of Jesus has been plagiarized or borrowed from other ancient near east myth stories. 

Finally and as mentioned in the sermon, it’s my conviction that answering all of this is not going to come down to one key piece of data, but rather by meditating on the question that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Reading, researching, conversing is certainly part of it the goodness of being informed, but even this has its limits. Ultimately all of our beliefs hinge on acts of faith.

If you are up for more reading, I would suggest reading up on the historicity of Jesus. Here were the books I mentioned in the sermon:

  • The Historical Jesus - Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary Habermas
  • Lord or Legend - Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma by Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy
  • The Thomas Factor by Gary Habermas
  • Simply Jesus - A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did and Why He Matters by  N.T. Wright

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