In 2020, I set forth the evidence that Jesus was originally an ancient Hebrew mystery cult hero in my article for Free Inquiry, “The Quest for the Mythical Jesus.” I argued that at some point, his passion drama was misinterpreted to be the story of an actual son of God who was crucified and resurrected to grant eternal life to his followers. Those who accepted the account as genuine became the original Christians. This article describes additional evidence from the Old Testament supporting the mythical Jesus theory.
Publicity photo of Yvonne Elliman and Ted Neeley promoting their roles in the 1973 feature film Jesus Christ Superstar.
Mystery cults practiced secretive three-day rites at the spring equinox long before the beginning of the common era. The oldest was devoted to the god Osiris in Egypt. From there, the rites spread throughout the ancient world in which the local fertility god of a given culture would be co-opted as the resurrected son in their rites: Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Adonis in Syria, Attis in Anatolia, Dionysus in Greece, Mithras in Persia, Bacchus in Rome, and Jesus in Israel. Each worshiped a tripartite father-mother-son god that was undoubtedly the source for the Holy Trinity.
The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) were originally thought to have been written at the beginning of the first millennium BCE. Modern research has concluded that this date was 500 years too early. 1 It is universally acknowledged that the books were composed during the Babylonian captivity. In 582 BCE, Jerusalem fell to the forces of Nebuchadnezzar. Those Judeans who survived the destruction of the city were transported to Babylon to live as slaves. During their fifty years of servitude, the Judean priests assembled the first books of the Bible by mixing their oral traditions with the myths of Mesopotamia. The cuneiform records included a creation fable known as the Enuma Elish.2 There is also the story of Adapa, the original Adam, with a tree of knowledge, complete with serpent.3 The Epic of Gilgamesh told of the hero Utnapishtim, who built an immense boat to survive a great flood, à la Noah and his ark.4 The lists of the patriarchs harken to Sumerian kings pre-inundation. Many had impossibly long lifespans.5
Although the Hebrews never lived in Egypt (see sidebar one), they were ruled by pharaohs for three hundred years when the Holy Land was a province of Egypt. During this time, the legends of the Nile were incorporated into the oral traditions of the priests. By removing the Egyptian and Mesopotamian stories, it is possible to identify the underlying mystery cult sources. Prominently featured in the first six books of the Bible were characters bearing the same names as the Gospel father-mother-son mystery cult triad. Joseph comes down to us in the same form in both the Old and New Testaments. This is not the case with the mother and son. The Hebrew texts were first translated into Latin, so the vowels and suffixes were transcribed differently when they were rendered into English. That is why they are “Miriam” and “Joshua” in the Old Testament. The Greek variants of the very same names in the New Testament passed into Latin in a shorter form to become “Mary” and “Jesus.”
The patriarch Joseph, best-known for his “coat-of-many-colors” (Genesis 37:3 of the King James Bible), was the protagonist in the last fourteen chapters of Genesis (37–50). He was able to interpret dreams and used this gift to foretell his eventual rise to power. His brothers feared that this meant he would be awarded his father’s birthright, even though he was the second-youngest son. To avert such a potentiality, they sold him into slavery. He was passed from owner to owner until he ended up in Egypt. Old Testament archaeologist Gary Greenberg identified the source for this part of the story as an Egyptian tale about the legendary ruler Psammetichus.6
Joseph’s first Egyptian master’s wife attempted to seduce him. He declined the offer, but she became fearful that he would tell her husband, so she claimed that Joseph tried to rape her. This story is virtually identical to the first part of an Egyptian epic titled “The Tale of the Two Brothers.”7
Joseph’s skills interpreting dreams came to the attention of the pharaoh who was plagued by nightmares. Joseph was called in for a consultation and determined that the “seven cows” (Genesis 41:2) and “seven ears of grain” (Genesis 41:6) in the sovereign’s dreams foretold seven years of plenty followed by seven years of privation. Joseph recommended that granaries be built, and the threat of famine was avoided. The pharaoh was so grateful that he made Joseph his second-in-command. The storage of grain was an ancient practice, and there are references to it on wall carvings in early Egyptian tombs.8 The element of the seven-year periods may have come from an Egyptian legend involving Imhotep, the architect of the first pyramid.9
In mystery cult passion dramas, a magistrate serving the god of the underworld condemned the son of God to death. Joseph seems to fulfill this role in his guise as the Egyptian viceroy. When his brothers arrive to purchase wheat, they do not recognize him. He refuses to accept their payments and demands that Benjamin be brought before him. The dinner Joseph provides recalls the Hebrew “Pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread,” held at the spring equinox, the same time that mystery cults observed their rites relating to the death and rebirth of their son of God (see sidebar two).
Part of the Pilgrim Feast is the ancient tradition of “buying-back” or “redeeming” a firstborn son. The origin of the custom is shrouded in antiquity. It eventually devolved into the practice of paying a monetary redemption fee. When Joseph refuses the grain remittances, he is rejecting the payment and thereby demanding the sacrifice of a firstborn son. Even though Benjamin is supposedly the youngest, he is the one who is threatened.
Additional hints concerning the original underlying story can be found in the names of the principals. Joseph is a contraction in which the initial “J” signifies Jehovah and the ending means “addition.”10 The suffix would convert god into a word that could be uttered without breaking the prohibition against speaking the name of deity. Joseph’s Egyptian name is “Zaphenath-paneah” (Genesis 41:45). “Nath” suggests a connection with Neith, a virginal Egyptian goddess whose name is also transliterated as Nut, the mother of Osiris. Both are also associated with Anat, a Ugarit goddess identified with an ancient Semitic father-mother-son triad.11
Benjamin’s name consists of two parts. “Ben” means “son.” “Jamin” is another contraction in which the “J” stands for “Jehovah.” The last part means “right hand.”12 Therefore, his name translates as “Son of God’s Right Hand.” The right hand refers to the traditional seat next to the ruler, so the name is a title: “Son of God.”
Then there is Rachel, who was supposedly the mother of the two men. Her name is commonly translated as “ewe,” but there is the added element of the suffix “el,” which represents the Semitic supreme deity.13 The description of her impregnation harkens to the Immaculate Conception (Genesis 30:22): “Then God thought of Rachel; he heard her prayer and gave her a child.” According to Genesis 35:19–20, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin “and was buried by the side of the road to … Bethlehem.” This was the legendary birthplace for Jesus and Adonis—both sons of gods. It may explain why Benjamin was singled out at the banquet and given five times as much food as anyone else (Genesis 43:34), Like a “fatted calf” sacrifice (1 Samuel 28:24 and Amos 6:4).
After the threat to Benjamin’s life, the narrative reverts to the tale of Psammetichus. Joseph, having risen to a position of power in Egypt, reconciles with those who sent him into slavery. The death and resurrection of a son of God found its way into the tale with the rejection of the redemption fee and in one other way. Benjamin’s father initially refused to allow him to go to Egypt, until one of the other brothers replied: “You may kill both my sons if I do not bring him back to you” (Genesis 42:37). This evokes dark memories of ritual sacrifice—of the patriarch Abraham with his knife at the throat of his son Isaac on a blood-stained altar (Genesis 22:10–12). According to Old Testament scholar Richard Friedman, textual analysis indicates that in the original rendition of the biblical legend, no ram was offered by God to replace Isaac, so he was actually sacrificed by Abraham.14 This may be another version of the ancient mystery cult drama with the names of the two patriarchs implying the parts they played. Abraham, in its original form “Avram,” is the Hebrew word for “father.”15 As was the case with Joseph, he also serves a secondary role as potential executioner, which may refer to an alternative rendition of the archetypal mystery cult story.
There are three separate versions of the birth of his son, each of which specifies that Isaac’s name has something to do with “laughter.” Genesis 17:17 indicates that when God tells him that he will have a son, “Abraham threw himself down on his face; he laughed.” Here the news is joyful. According to Genesis 18:14–15, it is Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who laughs, which displeases God. Then Genesis 21:1–7 merely reports the birth with a footnote: “That is He laughed.” Because the three verses contradict each other, none can be relied upon. A hint to the true meaning of Isaac’s name can be found in Genesis 31:42, which refers to “the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac.” Here are aspects of deity expressed as a triad.
There is another thrice-told tale involving Abraham and Isaac in Genesis that points to the existence of an additional triad. The first version involves Abraham and his wife, Sarah, who are confronted by the pharaoh (Genesis 12:11–20). There is an almost identical account involving the same spouses with King Abimelech (Genesis 20:1–18). The third version names the same king, only this time with Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 26:1–22). In each case, the spouses attempt to hide their marriage from the magistrate. In the context of the mysteries, they are trying to keep the conception of their legendary son a secret from the god of the underworld or his exemplar. Notice that in the first instance, the antagonist was the pharaoh, who is also the villain in the Exodus saga.
The names of the heroes in the most famous Old Testament story point to their roles in a drama. Mary or Miriam comes from an Egyptian word that means love. It is often transliterated as “meri” or “mere.” Miriam may originally have been “Mere-Amon” or “Beloved of Amon.”16 (Amon was the supreme deity in one of the oldest Egyptian pantheons.) So instead of a proper name, Mary is a title. The same is true for the other two members of the Exodus triad. Moses is the Egyptian word for “son.”17 Aaron’s name is traditionally thought to mean something akin to teaching or singing.18 This would point to a role in a theatrical production. In addition, there are similarities between Aaron and Avram, the original form of Abraham (“father”). The three are portrayed as siblings. According to Exodus 6:20, their father’s name was “Amran,” which is also similar to Avram. The three principles in the Exodus saga probably did not have the same family relationship that was assigned to them by the Jewish editors of the first books of the Bible. If they were originally characters in a passion drama, they would have been another father-mother-son triad. This possibility looms larger after the material attributed to outside sources is removed.
Scholars have identified four stories that were used to flesh out the narrative. First was the Babylonian legend of Sargon the Great, who conquered the Sumerians and installed himself as emperor around 2300 BCE.19 Sargon’s birth was also threatened, so he was hidden in a watertight basket that was found by royalty on a river. The other three sources were Egyptian folk tales. The element of ten separate confrontations with a magistrate comes from “The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant.”20 The apparent agreement and back-sliding by the pharaoh was taken from “The Contendings of Horus and Set.”21 Here, the gods judge a series of disputes in which Horus bests Set. In each case, Set—like the pharaoh—refuses to accept the verdict. Finally, there is the “Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage,” which provides a list of plagues with descriptions remarkably similar to the biblical afflictions.22
The final plague is an exception, because it was not included in the “Admonitions.” In a nod to mystery cult rites, it deals with the death of the “firstborn” (Exodus 11:5). It is preceded by another rendition of the Pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread. In this case, it is overlaid with the rituals of Passover. When the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon, he ordered all the foreign peoples to return to their native lands and offered them assistance reestablishing their religious traditions. To entice the Jewish people to abandon their residences in Babylon and resettle in the ruins of Jerusalem, the priests wrote the story of an earlier captivity and framed the return to the Holy Land as a religious obligation. This is the origin of the Exodus.
Because the Exodus never happened, the entire framework of Joshua’s Old Testament story of reconquest collapses. Archaeologists have determined that the city of Jericho didn’t exist during the period in question.23 It was abandoned several centuries earlier, and its walls were not rebuilt until hundreds of years later. The story of spies infiltrating the city is repeated in Judges 1:22–25, and the victory over King Hazor is duplicated in Judges 4:1–24. According to the archaeological record, Gibeon and most of the other cities supposedly subjugated by the Hebrews were also unoccupied.24
Joshua’s (or Jesus’s) real identity can be found in his name. Like Joseph and Mary, it is a title—a Jehovah contraction that means “God’s redeemer.”25 This is the role of the son in the mystery cult rites. In most ancient pantheons, the god of the underworld was the supreme deity’s brother. The birth of the son relegated him to third in the line of succession. His response was to engineer the death of the son, and he dispatched his minions to manufacture charges and arrest him. Rather surprisingly, the son voluntarily allowed himself to be condemned and executed, with the proviso that the lord of darkness relinquish all claims on the souls of his followers. At the climax of the drama, to prove that he had gained power over death, the son of God emerged triumphant from the cave where he was interred.
According to Joshua 5:2, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make knives of flint, seat yourself, and make Israel a circumcised people again.’” In most mystery cults the son was crucified, but in the oldest passion drama, Osiris was dismembered. The only part of his body that was never recovered was his phallus.26 The Greek mystic Pythagoras visited Egypt in the seventh century BCE and was inducted into the mysteries of Osiris.27 It was at this time that he underwent the rite of circumcision.28 There are pictures of the ritual on the walls of Egyptian tombs, where it was performed with a stone knife.29 Male circumcision was originally practiced by the Hebrews at the age of thirteen (Genesis 17:25). What may have started as a mystery cult initiation rite eventually became mandatory. During the Babylonian captivity, new dictates were enforced, as described in Genesis 17:12: “Every man among you shall be circumcised on the eighth day.” In addition, a larger portion of the foreskin was removed.
To recover the surviving elements of the mystery cult myths, it was necessary to rearrange the Old Testament stories. Purists may object to such an approach. However, this is exactly what the Jewish priests did to create the earliest books of the Bible in the first place. The biblical editors probably never dreamed that later archeologists would uncover the Mesopotamian tablets, the Egyptian inscriptions, and the other material that overlay a mystery cult source.
1. A. H. McNeile, “The History of Israel,” in A Commentary on the Bible, ed. A. S. Peake. New York, NY: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1920, p. 77
2. J. Thompson. The Bible and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962, p. 13.
3. H. H. Halley. Halley’s Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927, p. 68.
4. E. Riedel, Tracy, T., and Moskowitz, B. The Book of the Bible (New York, NY: William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1979), p. 29.
5. J. Thompson, p. 14.
6. G. Greenberg. 101 Myths of the Bible, How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History. New York, NY: Bristol Park Books, 2000, pp 175 and 178–179.
7. Greenberg, pp. 181–182; J. H. Marks, “The Book of Genesis,” in The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, ed. C. M. Laymon. Nashville,
TN: Abingdon Press, 1971, pp. 27–28; and I. Wilson, Exodus, the True Story. New York, NY: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985, p. 61.
8. Halley, p. 107.
9. L. S. De Camp, The Ancient Engineers. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1960, p. 258
10. S. Sidi, The Complete Book of Hebrew Baby Names. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989, p. 105.
11. A. S. Peake, “Genesis,” in Peake, p. 163; and D. M. Murdock, Christ in Egypt, the Horus–Jesus Connection. Seattle, WA: Steller House Publishing, 2009, pp. 142–143.
12. Sidi, p. 96.
13. Sidi, p. 147.
14. R. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible. New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1987, p. 257.
15. Sidi, p. 30.
16. Murdock, pp. 125, 127, and 136.
17. W. Keller, The Bible as History. New York, NY: William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1956, p. 118; and M. Magnusson, Archaeology of the Bible. New York, NY: Simon
and Schuster, 1977, p. 58.
18. Sidi, p. 21
19. Keller, p. 119; and Magnusson, p. 58.
20. W. K. Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 47–49.
21. Greenberg, pp. 205.
22. Greenberg, pp. 206–207.
23. Greenberg, p. 240.
24. Greenberg, p. 246.
25. Sidi, p. 100.
26. J. Campbell, Transformations of Myth Through Time. New York, NY: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1990, p. 83.
27. T. Freke and P. Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999, p. 22–23.
28. D. Gollaher, Circumcision: A History of The World’s Most Controversial Surgery. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000, p. 6.
29. Gollaher, pp. 1–2.
Sidebar One: The Exodus Never Happened
Historians now realize that the Hebrews never lived in Egypt during the only time period the Exodus could have occurred. After his victory at Megiddo in 1483 BCE, Pharaoh Thutmose took control of the Holy Land. Egypt ruled the region until 1191 BCE, when the armies of Ramesses III were driven back to the Nile by the “Sea Peoples,” a wave of migrants from the north. These heavily armed warriors marched south along the shoreline, transporting their families and possessions in boats. The incursion occurred around the time the Hittite empire in Anatolia collapsed, so the migration may have had something to do with that event. It was a coalition of tribes, including the Philistines. Ramesses made the best of the situation by signing a treaty that allowed the invaders to “garrison” the coastal cities they had conquered. As a result, Egypt no longer had any influence over the Holy Land, and the Hebrews were cut off from their former rulers along the Nile.
Verification of the fact that the Hebrews never lived in Egypt is provided in the Bible by examining the hailstone plague. In Exodus 9:31, the damage wrought by the storm is described as follows: “The flax and barley were destroyed because the barley was in the ear and the flax in bud.” Egyptian plantings were made in the autumn, so this is the only season when these seedlings could have been destroyed. However, a few days after the hailstorm, in Exodus 13, the Hebrews observed the Pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover ordinance. These are spring rites (see sidebar two).
During the Babylonian captivity, the Jews adopted their host city’s annual cycle, which began in the spring, and used it as their sacred calendar. However, they also retained an older timetable that started in the fall of the year and is the basis for their civil calendar. True descendants of delta dwellers would have known that the original cycle began in the autumn because that was when the summer inundations of the Nile receded from the farmlands so the crops could be planted. Therefore, spring in Egypt was harvest time. These facts would have been retained in the institutional memory of the Jewish priesthood, if for no other reason than to explain the anomaly of their dual calendars. The only possible explanation is that the ancient Hebrews adopted the Egyptian calendar without realizing its true import. This means they never lived near the Nile. They never left the Holy Land. There were no hailstorms before the harvest—or plagues before the Pilgrim Feast.
There is an even easier way to show that the Egyptian saga was fictional. It is the simple fact that the pharaoh was never identified. The ruler who saved the Jews from starvation is lost to time, and the identity of the tyrant who enslaved their ancestors and chased them to the sea slipped their minds. According to the mythical Jesus theory, the reason the pharaoh was not named is that he was originally a stock character in a mystery cult passion drama. He was the exemplar of the god of the underworld who opposed the birth of the legendary son to the male and female aspects of the deity.
1. D. Redford, Akhenaten the Heretic King. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984, p. 13 and pp. 18–19.
2. M. Dothan and T. Dothan, People of the Sea. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1992, p. 169
3. A. R. S. Kennedy, “Weights, Measures, Money, and Time,” in Peake, p. 118.
4. B. Mertz, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs. New York, NY: Peter Bedrick Books, 1964, p. 37.
Sidebar Two: Passover of Pilgrim Feast
In the first three Gospels, the Last Supper was described as the Passover dinner. However, in each instance, Jesus performed a communion sacrament. The Last Supper ceremony in the fourth Gospel was different, but there is an earlier reference to a meal with bread and wine (John 6:22–58). None of the described rituals are anything like Passover.
Supposedly, the first Passover was observed to avoid the effects of the final Exodus plague, the death of the firstborn. Because there was no Exodus, Passover must have had an entirely different origin. The Hebrew term pesah refers to God or his destroying angel “jumping over” every house marked with blood on the doorpost (Exodus 12). It was an ancient practice of nomadic people to apply the blood of a sacrificed animal to tentpoles to drive away evil spirits and ensure fertility for the rest of the flock. It was also applied around the entrances of tents to protect inhabitants in time of plague. Passover melded these blood rites with another holdover from the Judean pastoral heritage: the ritualistic preparations involved in moving to new seasonal grazing lands. The predeparture dinner required roasted meat (originally over an open fire) along with wild or recently gathered bitter herbs for garnish. In addition, the diners were supposed to be dressed for travel.
According to II Kings 23:22–23, “no Passover had been kept either when the judges were ruling Israel or during the times of the kings of Israel and Judah.” The first mention of the rite appears in II Kings 23:21, when King Josiah (circa 621 BCE) “ordered all the people to keep the Passover to the Lord their God, as this book of the covenant prescribed.” However, scholars have determined that the “book of the covenant” was in fact Deuteronomy, which was not written until the Babylonian captivity, a hundred years later, so the episode is anachronistic.
Some form of Passover was probably observed by Judean shepherd families. Perhaps the blood rites and the departure meal had been combined at an early date. Some of these pastoralists may have sought refuge in Jerusalem when the area was invaded and were among the survivors forced to live out the rest of their lives in Babylon. The ancient observances, which harkened back to their homeland, would have been a comfort in a foreign land. Over time, the rite was apparently picked up by the other exiles, and new meanings were given to it. The herbs were bitter because of the loss of Jerusalem, and the traveling clothes represented the desire to return.
According to Ezekiel 45, Passover did not become a formal annual observance until the captivity, when it was scheduled to precede the first of the ancient Hebrew festivals known as Pilgrim Feasts. The three events coincided with important milestones in the annual plantings and harvest and are the earliest holidays described in the Bible. It is possible that they also reoccur in abbreviated form in the New Testament. Each of the three Gospel meals may correspond with one of the Pilgrim-feasts:
Old Testament Activities
First sheaf (barley) offering (Leviticus 23:10–11)
Sacrifice firstborn cattle/sheep (Exodus 34:19)
Redemption of firstborn son (Exodus 34:20)
Passover (Exodus 12) not added until sixth century BCE (II Kings 23 and Ezekiel 45)
First “loaves and fishes”
(Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:30–44;
and John 6:1–15)
First fruits “grain-offering” of leavened bread
(Exodus 23:16 and Leviticus 23:15–18)
Second “loaves and fishes” (Matthew 15:32–39 and Mark 8:1–10)
“Produce from the threshing floor and wine press” (Exodus 23:17 and Deuteronomy 16:13)
Bread and Wine Last Supper or Communion
The first meal is recounted in identical detail in all four Gospels. It began with five loaves and two fishes, and there were twelve baskets leftover after feeding 5,000 people. The descriptions of the second feeding are virtually the same. It began with “a few” fishes and seven loaves and ended with seven baskets after satisfying 4,000 people. According to the mythical Jesus theory, the versions are indistinguishable because they came from the same recorded source—the transcript of a mystery cult passion drama.
1. J. J. Castelot and A. Cody, “Religious Institutions of Israel,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. R. E. Brown et. al. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice Hall, Inc., 1990, pp. 1277–1278.
2. Castelot and Cody, in Brown, p. 1278.
3. J. Gray, “The Book of Exodus,” in Laymon, p. 45
4. J. T. Walsh and C. T. Begg, “1-2 Kings,” in Brown, p. 184; and Friedman, p. 101.
In 2020, I set forth the evidence that Jesus was originally an ancient Hebrew mystery cult hero in my article for Free Inquiry, “The Quest for the Mythical Jesus.” I argued that at some point, his passion drama was misinterpreted to be the story of an actual son of God who was crucified and resurrected …