There has been an article or two floating around that claims new evidence has emerged shedding light on the supposed true nature of the historical Jesus. The claim goes like this: a 2nd century pope, Pius I, has recently been exhumed by archaeologists, and with him, some documentation proving Jesus was a made up character.
One of the articles comes from Core Spirit, a website which has apparently ceased caring about their credibility (another website is Spirit Egg). The claims made by the article on Core Spirit are absurd and completely unsubstantiated. The only reason I want to address it here is because popular-level articles are often mistakenly accepted as true without further investigation.
There are three primary reasons this article is ridiculous. First, the author presumably expects the reader to think the picture used is real. In this case, it’s certainly not. Second, the “facts” communicated have absolutely no citations or links to other sources in order to support the claims it makes… aside from a lazy hyperlink to a Bart Ehrman book (Erhman believes in a historical Jesus, by the way). Third, there is no evidence to suggest Pope Pius I was ever “exhumed by archaeologists,” contrary to the article’s claim.
Let’s take a closer look at these three reasons.
1) If you’re gonna tell a lie, at least get a better picture.
The above picture has been floating around the internet and is said to be a picture of the mummified corpse of Pope Pius I. Websites like Core Spirit and Spirit Egg are all blowing the horn.
There are two reasons this is an absurd and deceptive claim.
First, the picture above shows a gentlemen with a red beard (not characteristic of a 2nd century Italian man, like Pope Pius I), dressed in apparel commonly worn during the 17th and 18th centuries… over 1500 years after Pope Pius I would have lived.
Second, the mummified pope is none other than Peter Winstrup, the 17th century bishop of Lund, Sweden. Sources for this include the History Channel, Lund University, and Daily Mail UK. If this discovery of Pope Pius I is recent, where are the real photographs? The fact that a picture of a dead 17th century bishop is falsely associated with this claim is rather suspect.
2) Where are your citations?!
A claim this heavy ought to have some firepower to go along with it. If the claims in this article were true, they deserve further analysis and ought to have citations for scholarly opinion. As it stands, this article just blasts out claims and expects its readers to take them for granted. This ought to be a massive red-flag for any rational person.
The article states:
More interestingly alongside the body, the archaeologists found numerous documents also preserved from the time of his death detailing alternate accounts of key events and even some that suggest that the Messiah was, in fact, a fabrication created by the Christians of the time to further their agenda.
Where are these documents? There are no links, no scanned images of manuscripts… nothing! Strange, right? Again, you’d think if this silly article had any truth in it, it would want to show it off! The author of this article also writes:
The remains of the first Catholic pope have been exhumed by archaeologists and have been remarkably well preserved, as well as turning up some secrets the church would rather have stayed buried.
Who are these archaeologists? Where is the initial announcement of this fantastic find? Also, why wouldn’t there be multiple copies of these documents? And why would they go down with Pius I rather than someone like Clement, Polycarp or Ignatius, all of which were alive prior to Pius I?
Something smells fishy here.
3) Pius I Exhumed?
There is no evidence that Pope Pius I has been officially exhumed by archaeologists. Pope Pius IX has, but not Pope Pius I. Even if Pius I was exhumed at some point, there’s absolutely no evidence of accompanying documentation falsifying Jesus Christ’s historical existence.
Articles that make positive claims, but lack evidence for those claims, ought to be avoided.
Was Jesus a Copy of Greek or Egyptian Myth?
I should also say something about the tail-end of the article. It states:
Some of the other messianic figures who predated Jesus but bear striking similarities include Horus and Mithras, both of whom are said to have been the basis of some of the life story of Jesus in the past.
Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and kingship, was born of a virgin, baptized at the age of 30 and had 12 disciples. He was also crucified and resurrected similarly to Jesus thousands of years later.
Though similarities can be found between any two things (a frog and a bird both have hearts, a hospital and a funeral home both provide services for people, etc), a “striking” similarity ought to be pretty profound! We would expect to see stories preceding Jesus’ ministry that are almost identical. But we find no such thing. Speaking of Horus, the article says, “He was also crucified and resurrected similarly to Jesus thousands of years later.”
This isn’t really true.
New Testament scholar, Dr. N. T. Wright, talks about this claim in the first chapter of his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. He points out that there is a difference between the terms apotheosis and anastasis. The former term was used to denote soul translation from one state (or place) to another. The latter was used to denote corporeal (bodily) resurrection. Interestingly, as Wright notes, anastasis was never used in ancient Homeric, Platonic, or Egyptian literature preceding Christ.
The first time it was used was in biblical literature in order to describe something completely different than the myths of Greek and Egyptian lore. The writers of Scripture wanted to communicate a bodily resurrection (anastasis), not soul translation (apotheosis).
The article goes on to say:
Mithras was a Roman cult god and also had a virgin birth, had a festival on December 25th, marked his followers on the forehead, was associated with the lion and the lamb, sacrificed himself and had a sacred day on Sunday.
December 25th was never an important date for Christianity for the first three centuries of church history. So, we could throw that parallel out. It’s not important. Reformed Christianity (my belief), for example, rejects the idea of Christmas being a Christian holiday. It’s nowhere to be found in Scripture or in our historical confessions.
I’m not sure what the significance of Mithras marking his followers on the forehead is. Jesus never did this. All this shows is that the Roman Catholic system syncretized with pagan myth at some point (Roman Catholic syncretism is widely accepted by Protestant polemicists to one extent or another).
The Lion & the Lamb connection is pretty weak since it plays off of two popular animals in the first century, and doesn’t even come close to the significance of the gospels.
Lastly, 1st century Greek authors making Sunday a special day is no big deal. You’d think if this was the motivation for the Lord’s Day (Sunday) in Christianity, it would have been more explicit in the text, and would have come before Jesus’ life on earth.
The doctrine of the Sunday Sabbath comes from the Old Testament (before Mithrasim was practiced) as well as the New, and is deduced as good and necessary consequence.
The real nail in the coffin for Mithras, however, is the fact that Mithraism wasn’t even practiced until the 1st century. In fact, it wasn’t until 50 A.D. that Mithraism really broke out in the Roman empire (not being too popular in Israel). Interestingly enough, the core tenets of the Christian tradition would have already been established (cf. The Resurrection of the Son of God, I.I).
It looks more like Mithras copied Jesus rather than the other way around!
When all things are considered, articles like the one from Core Spirit are demonstrably absurd. They got the wrong picture, they cited no specific scholarly authorities, and they failed to present evidence for the exhumation of Pope Pius I. They even made sloppy connections between a-historical myths and the historical Jesus, purposely leaving out significant differences while dishonestly trying to make them look unrealistically similar.
The articles trying to make Jesus into a myth are ironically really good at being myths! This particular myth, that Pius I has been exhumed with documents falsifying the historical Jesus, has been BUSTED.