Did ancient pagan traditions affect Christian Scripture?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I saw something where some people claim that Osiris was called "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" and that an Egyptian source said this about Osiris, “the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the 'green pastures' and 'still waters' of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul and body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death...” They go onto say that Psalm 23 copied from this. Is there any evidence out there about this and does it really exist? When were the dates to the Egyptian sources written? I see many articles that compare Jesus to Osiris how can this be debunked?

Answer: Hello friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for submitting such an important question. We Christians should indeed be “people of the book” as the Quran designates us, and if we stand on the Christian scriptures then we had better defend them. But when the increasing ease of communications outpaces the likelihood that legitimate scholarship would inform a popular article, then it is no longer productive to weigh the internet’s blather. You see, the online world has democratized idiocy. Anyone can say anything about anything… and they do… pixels are cheap! This is why I call upon all Christians, as people who have the truth, to study that truth optimally… diverting minimal energies to these non-scholarly sources.

That being said, your question was about whether or not those types of questions have any meat… and that certainly deserves our time and attention. But before we began with the details, let me give you a strong statement that might put you at ease. The Christian scriptures have been vetted for thousands of years by legitimate scholars. Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most well-attested events in ancient history. We deal in historical evidence and we do the objective analyses that let us build a plausible history… although historical “truths” are not quite as crisp as is the Pythagorean theorem… but don’t let that put you off. Christianity’s historical truths are so good that it is an insult to compare them with mystical hearsay. So here are two take-homes:

First, standard methodologies allow us to affirm that we have the historical truth… and it should be our personal stand that these things are indeed true. So — and with our feet planted firmly in this empirically-based truth — let me ask you, what would it take to make something that is true untrue. I mean… a thing is either true or it is not… right? And if the story of Jesus Christ is indeed reasonably true (which is the consensus even among secular historians) would any amount of biblical-sounding stories make the biblical stories untrue? Would any amount of shared literary imagery between the Bible and pagan culture make the true things untrue? Would any number of internet bloggers make a true thing not true? No. A thing is either true or it is not.

These copycatting allegations have been around for a while… but they have no teeth. They bark… but cannot bite. So don’t treat them like they can. Now, you are — and appropriately so — doing your due diligence by asking us this question… and I am pleased to respond to your diligence. But my plea is that you do not give internet blather any credibility — especially in the face of hard-fought truth… and we Christians have had millennia of that! So don’t equate ideas that were bought with blood with the ideas of people who have either a crippling bias or only a passing familiarity with the issues. Now, not all scholars agree… that’s how scholarship works! But please chose your sources from among scholars. Otherwise, you will be fishing in a cesspool… then wondering what’s wrong with dinner.

Second, do not confuse temporal precedence with causation… and I’ll explain. Let’s say that two cultures in the Ancient Near East shared roughly the same geography and roughly the same time in history. It would be reasonable to assume that they would be the same in many aspects — even if they never connected. Now, we know that shepherding was ubiquitous then and there, so it is very likely that a shepherd motif would permeate both cultures. So when God wanted to communicate optimally with people who understood this motif, he would have a shepherd (David) use shepherding language as in the 23rd Psalm… which was effective for centuries — because even a millennium later, Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). That’s the biblical record. But it is entirely reasonable that another shepherding culture would deploy the same imagery independently. Such development would not be linear (where precedence could affect subsequence), but it would be parallel — where the two lines never touch.

Note also that these parallel cultures did not have to develop their cultural particulars during the same time. Even if one culture developed a shepherding motif centuries before the other — and even if they “published” — you cannot assume cause-and-effect without evidence of an information transfer. So remember this about antiquity: many events are understood to have happened first. But this does not mean that they caused any events that happened later. Similar cultures do similar things, at the same or at different times, without being “seeded” beyond God’s general providence (Matthew 5:45)… like his creating pastures and sheep.

Since the specific issues that you mentioned are complex, they will require a lengthier unpacking than is appropriate for a Q & A. So let me point you to a few articles by some reputable apologetics ministries that discuss all the issues you have mentioned — and if these do not do it for you, please re-query. God bless you.




(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20170206 Did pagan traditions influence Christianity?).

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