The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines zeitgeist as “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.” The word is also the title of a series of popular films directed by Peter Joseph. The first film, being the most well-known and popular of the series, is divided into roughly 3 parts: the first being a discussion of the Christ myth (Christianity as a rip off of other religions), the 9/11 Conspiracy (9/11 was an inside job), and the conspiracy of a one world government/financial system.
Recently, a friend watched the original Zeitgeist, and suggested that those of us in his circle that hadn’t viewed the film do so. He was interested in our collective and respective thoughts and opinions. For those who aren’t familiar with my particular group of friends, it’s important to know that we all come from very different places. We’ve got a rag-tag mesh of liberals, conservatives, atheists, pagans, hetero-, homo-, bi-sexuals, Jesus Freaks and any other number of labels one could throw into the pot. We also have developed a good knack at challenging each other, mocking one another, and still coming out the other side staying friends. (I love that about my people! Seriously.)
Being that I readily identify as one of those “Jesus people,” and as one who’s generally not much for conspiracy theories, I found the prospect of viewing the movie interesting. Especially considering that just prior to the admonition to watch, the same friend joked that he thought I was too smart for that religion stuff. Naturally, the Christ Myth portion of the movie was the portion I gravitated toward. The conspiracy stuff can be summed up in four words (I, wouldn’t, be, & surprised), so I really am not interested in spending a lot of time discussing that part of the film. The Jesus stuff though, well, I’m game…
Right away, Zeitgeist, jumps into the practice among ancient civilizations of sun worship and astrology, and then forays into drawing a parallel between the story of Horus (and other religious gods) and the story of Jesus, thereby suggesting that the Christ narrative was stolen from multiple other religious traditions was somehow an advanced form of sun worship. The movie does a pretty good job of laying out the paralleled information, I’ll admit. However, immediately I noticed several problems with the direction that the movie was going. Ignoring the fact that the only religion that seems to be attacked was Christianity (no mention is made of the fallacy of Islam or Hinduism for example), the primary problem with the assertions made in the movie were that they appeared to be heavily regurgitated information from an 1875 book by Kersey Grave. “The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors” was never sourced by the movie. Perhaps this is because the general consensus among noted and studied historians is that the book is highly unscholarly and unreliable? Of the sources credited by the movie for Part I of the movie, the two primary sources are D.M. Murdock, a mythicist and conspiracy theorist, and her primary influence, Gerald Massey, a self-styled Egyptologist that’s been denounced as a “pseudo historian” by academia for over a century. Since a large part of the Christ Myth portion of the movie relies heavily on Murdock’s work, an address of her credentials should be required.
Murdock claims to be fluent in both Greek and Hebrew, and even claims herself to have sat down with the Bible in both English, Greek and Hebrew; claiming to know it well enough to best even most clergy. While this claim is fine and dandy all on its own, there’s the fundamental issue with the direct correlation she draws between “God’s Sun” equating to “God’s Son.” Remember, she’s claiming to be fluent in both Hebrew and Greek (the primary languages of the Bible). However, the only similarity between the two words is found in English/Germanic languages. The Hebrew word for “sun” is shamesh, whereas the Hebrew word for “son” is ben. (Even the Babylonian name for their sun-god was “Shamash.”)
The movie also begins with a heavy drawing of parallels between Horus and Jesus, suggesting the later plagiarized from the former. The basis of the argument for the Horus/Jesus parallel begins by immediately identifying Horus as the Egyptian sun-god, which is false. One need not be an Egyptologist to know that Horus was not the sun-god, as claimed. He was known as the god of the sky. The movie goes on to make several claims about Horus in an effort to prove the Jesus/Horus connection; some of which include:
- Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th.
- The birth of Horus was proclaimed by a star in the east and as a result 3 kings came to adore the new “savior.”
- Horus became a prodigious teacher at age 12.
- Horus was baptized and began a “ministry” at age 30.
- Horus had 12 disciples.
- Horus was crucified, was buried, and then resurrected after 3 days.
If we take a moment to address even a few of these claims, we see that Mr. Joseph didn’t do his research, starting with the origin of the Horus story itself. The claim was that the original myth was dated at 3000 BC, which proves interesting in and of itself because there are no Egyptian texts on that subject that date back that far. Furthermore, the references to Horus becoming a teacher at age 12 and having 12 disciples are also nowhere to be found in Egyptian accounts. (The closest thing to “disciples” of Horus would be the 4 semi-gods that were his followers.) Neither were the accounts of his crucifixion, (as all the Horus accounts pre-date the practice of crucifixion), or resurrection after 3 days dead, as Egyptian religion didn’t have accounts of bodily resurrection.
Additionally, Horus’ virginal mother is identified as “Isis Mary.” Isis was in fact, never called Isis Mary anywhere but in the movie Zeitgeist. Additionally, the conception of Horus differs from the conception story of Jesus in that Isis was, in fact, not virginal. She was a god (unlike the Biblical Mary, who was human), and she conceived Horus after Isis found the body parts of Osiris (Horus’ father) floating in the Nile, reassembled and reanimated them, minus the penis, which she fashioned out of gold. Horus was conceived from the golden penis of a resurrected Osiris. Hardly the immaculate conception story contained in the gospels of the Biblical texts. Furthermore, Horus was said to have been born during the month of Khoiak, which would correspond to October/November on the modern calendar, not December 25. Even if his birth was on the 25th of December, it would do little to draw the parallel between the Christ narrative, as the Biblical accounts never once mention Jesus being born on December 25th. There’s also no actual stories of a star or three kings coming to visit Horus. There’s no description in any of the Horus myths where he served as a “savior,” or in a messianic capacity at all. The closest correlation between the suggestion Horus was “baptize” was the Egyptian belief that the sun-god renewed himself each morning in the Lake of the Field of Rushes. Despite the fact that Horus is not the sun-god, the idea of the morning sun renewing in a lake corresponds with the actual purpose of the Horus narrative: allegory. The story of Horus is an allegory for the rebirth of the sun in the east, based on the cycles of nature, not on any historical claims. Jesus, however, was based on verifiable historical sources.
The movie also goes on to make additional claims that the Christ Myth is closely related to other theistic versions in mythology. These claims though, like Horus, can be relatively discredited with more in-depth study. For example, the resurrection of Attis isn’t even mentioned until almost 150 AD, nearly 100 years after the establishment of Christianity, and 120 years after the alleged death and resurrection of Jesus. Even then, the “resurrection” of Attis is simply a story of regeneration, as it’s said that Cybele preserved his body, allowing only that his little finger should move and hair should grow. Hardly resurrection. There’s also the small matter of Attis being symbolic of regeneration of growth from winter into spring. Dionysus’ myth is inaccurate as his “virgin birth” was, in fact, the story of conception between Zeus and a human princess, wherein Zeus rescued the fetus upon the princess’ death, and brought Dionysus to term sewed into his (Zeus) own thigh. Mithra rose spontaneously from a rock in a cave. Krishna was born to a mother who already had 7 previous sons. There’s a large number of sources that, had the filmmakers even attempted to moderately research, would’ve discredited their claims that the Christ story came direct from those of other religious practice.
The suggestion that Jesus’ life story was stolen from Mithraism also proves problematic as there’s little notice of the Persian God Mithra in the Roman world until the beginning of the 2nd century; however, there are hundreds of inscriptions to Mithra from 136 AD on. This suggests that Mithraism adapted its practice to Christianity, not the other way around, as the ideas of rebirth would’ve been foreign until such time as the Mithraic cults made their way to the lands of the Roman world where the writers of the Gospel had been.
The idea that the writers of the Gospels of Christ has been influenced my Mithraism is unlikely, as it didn’t make its way to them until well after the Gospels were written. Mithraism is also a primarily military cult, and would likely have not appealed to non-military people such as the early Christians. Additionally, most of what is known about Mithraism comes from the New Testament and later; whereas the history of the prophecies and history of Christianity and Judaism were well documented and written much, much earlier.
There’s also the large problem of the entire premise of the birth of Jesus as presented in the movie. The observance of the Dec. 25th birth of Jesus was simply that, an observance. This, actually, agrees with the Zeitgeist movie on one point: The observation of the birth directly coincides with the observation of pagan celebrations (Festival of Saturnalia, anyone?). However, the Bible, on which Christianity is based, never actually states on what day Jesus was born, although it alludes to a possible birth in the early autumn. The Gospel of Luke says that Elizabeth, the cousin of the Virgin Mary, was in her sixth month of pregnancy when she was told of the immaculate conception. Based on records of Elizabeth’s husband Zacharias’ service in the temple, and the timing of her conception within that frame, it would indicate that Elizabeth conceived around early to mid June, making Jesus’ birth near the end of September. This would also coincide with the general time frame of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, observed in the Jewish faith, during which travel was commonly accepted. This would also place the conception of Jesus near the end of December, which is actually a more accurate observation in the Christian church, as Christmas is when the Church celebrates the time when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
There’s also the problem of the three kings. Even if we completely disregard the fact that the “kingly” visitors were actually Magi (read: magicians, as it pagan astrologers); it never states in the Bible that 3 kings actually visited the newborn Jesus. The record indicates that Magi traveled to see him, shortly after which Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Nazareth to preserve the life of the child in the midst of an order by Herod to kill all children under age three. This actually suggests that the Magi (wise men) made it to Jesus well after his birth, not immediately thereafter. The Zeitgeist claim that the “three stars of Orion’s belt” are called today, as they were in ancient times, “The Three Kings,” is not based on any common historical fact, except from their favorite 19th century authors which have already been discredited as largely sophomoric and incorrect in their claims. In fact, there is NO mention of the “Three Kings” in any constellation before 1822.
Long story short: The Zeitgeist argument regarding the Christ birth is based largely on commercial Christmas cards, rather than actual Biblical or historical fact. One really can’t make an argument against a case that doesn’t exist.
The popularity of the Zeitgeist movie does speaks more to the current cultural climate of anti-religious, especially anti-Jesus practice than it does toward the adoption of rational, logical thought. Religion, quite frankly has been hijacked by non-rationalists, so the slant the other direction makes perfect sense – even to someone like myself who is religious. However, to declare that a Christ-based faith is simply the same religious pill with a different colored coating is fallacious. This of course leads to the question: What if the Jesus Freaks are right?