11. Pagan Origins

11. Pagan Origins

The case against Christianity

Muslims and Ahmadis both try to link the teachings of the Bible with polytheistic pagan sources. They accuse early followers of incorporating foreign beliefs derived from paganism ‘in the religion of Jesus’.1 To prove the point, they draw an outward comparison between the pagan myths and the events of the life of Jesus, being born of a virgin mother, his mission, death and resurrection. Paul also comes under heavy attack. They accuse him of bringing pagan rites and creeds into Christianity.2

If such a claim were true, those who persecuted Christians could easily have condemned their faith as being of pagan origin. In fact the early Church refused to make room for pagan rites and ceremonies. For example, the Church at Colossae was surrounded by a pagan philosophy that involved a religious life of observing the movements of the stars, which were associated with the powers of the angels and were therefore worshipped. Paul boldly and harshly warned the Church of this dangerous situation:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than Christ (Colossians 2:8).

In other places Paul declares all pagan gods to be demons. He calls upon Christians not to participate in any pagan rites or idol feasts:

The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

The balance of truth

Like any other family in England, we receive a lot of ‘junk mail’ before Christmas and Easter. Once I came home and found, as usual, a lot of mail blocking my way. Among the advertisements for Easter eggs and Easter holidays, I found a four page leaflet that an Ahmadi friend had pushed through the letter box. "Interesting," I thought and started reading it. ‘Easter and other festivals: Their pagan Origin’ was the title. Waiting for the water to boil for a cup of tea, I read the outcry about the similarity between Christianity and pagan religions and ‘proofs’ from the Bible for the swoon theory.

The fact that every year the Christian world has to fix Good Friday and Easter Sunday after the movements of the moon clearly shows that the festival has more to do with the worship of some luminary [heavenly body] than with any event in the life of Jesus (pp. 1-2).

If such reasoning is used to prove the pagan origins of Christianity, I can easily use the same criterion for Muslim festivals and reverse the accusation by just putting some Islamic terms in the above passage, thus:

The fact that every year the Muslim world has to fix the date for Ramadhan and Eid festivals after the movements of the moon clearly shows that these festivals have more to do with the worship of some luminary [heavenly body] than with any event in the life of Muhammad.

See how easy it is to reverse the objection? Not only this but, by following the method used by Muslim and Ahmadi followers, one can provide a list of beliefs and practices of Islam, to suggest their Zoroastrian, Sabaean or pagan Arab origin.

For instance we are told by Abul Fidah, who quotes from Abu Isa al-Maghrabi, that the Sabaeans performed prayers seven times a day. Five of these prayers were at the same hours as adopted by Muhammad. These people fasted for thirty days and observed, like the Muslims, Eid festivals and venerated the Ka’ba, the cube like building in the centre of the sacred mosque at Mecca.3

Again, if we adopt the Muslim attitude towards the Bible and use it to criticise Islam, we can easily say, like our Muslim critics, that much of Islam came from hearsay. For example Miraj - the ascent of Muhammad to heaven and the passing visit to hell, may be found in ancient Zoroastrian tales dating some four hundred years before the time of Muhammad. The Magi of Persia sought to revive the faith in people’s hearts and they sent a Zoroastrian up to heaven to bring some news. An angel took him to the heavenly realms, where he met the heavenly leaders. He was shown Paradise and Hell. At last he was taken into the presence of Ormazd, the god of Zoroastrianism and his company of angels. Ormazd was like a brilliant light, but with no appearance of a body.4 In another work such as the Zardusht Namah, the person who ascended up to heaven and then came back was Zoroaster himself.5 If such similarity does not mean Islam has its origin in pre-Islamic sources, then one should not use the same yardstick when looking at the Bible.

The strange legacy

One Ahmadi author attempted to trace Jesus’ teachings to pagan origins. A second endeavoured to find similarities and likeness between Muhammad and pagan gods to prove the universality of Muhammad. The first was Kamal-ud-Din, in his book, The Sources of Christianity, who tries to prove that the story of Jesus in the Bible is an exact copy of the story of Horus, the ‘sun-god’.6 Then Abdul Haque, in his book, Muhammad in World Scriptures, does not see even one point of similarity between them. Instead, he presents a series of similarities between Horus and Muhammad to prove that the former foretold the latter.7

In another chapter, Kamal-ud-Din attempted to prove that the life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, were borrowed from the life of Buddha and his teachings. He argued that even ‘some of the parables and precepts that we find in the Gospels had been given word for word by Buddha, some five hundred years before Jesus’.8

Surprisingly Kamal-ud-Din did not know, or ignored, what the founder of his movement, Mirza Ahmad, had said:

The events of Buddha’s life had not been recorded till the time of Jesus. Buddhist priests, therefore, had a great opportunity to ascribe to the Buddha anything they wished to ascribe. So it is likely that when they came to know the facts of Jesus’ life and his moral teaching, they mixed these with many other things introduced by themselves and ascribed them to the Buddha.9

The Logos connection

To discredit the validity of the Gospels, some would lay their hands on anything they can find. Kamal-ud-Din is no different in his reasoning. He further claims that the disciples did not write through inspiration but were influenced by Plato and Philo. He refers to the first few verses of John’s Gospel and comments that ‘the term WORD, used in John, which stands for the Greek word LOGOS’ is also used by Philo.10

In the race to accuse, Ahmad Deedat, an orthodox Muslim, does not want to be left behind. Without any evidence, he states that every Christian scholar acknowledges John 1:1 as the words of Philo. Ahmad Deedat accuses John of being a plagiarist.11

John used the word LOGOS because it was a word in common use by well-educated men of that time, just as, today, we expect educated people to understand terms like evolution, life-force, relativity, ecology, zoology, and psychology etc. The truth about Jesus had to be interpreted to a changing Greco-Roman world. God wanted them to know what he meant. Therefore the gospel was presented in terms which were familiar at that time.

It is indeed true that Philo and John both used the word ‘Logos’, but while Philo used it to explain some of his philosophical principles, John used this term or word to explain about an historical figure: Jesus.

The fact is that Philo never said that the Logos became flesh and lived among us. In his opinion, ‘God is without qualities because that which possesses qualities cannot be regarded as sui generis12 - of the same kind. In contrast, John introduces God the Son as the Logos, the Word, (Kalimah) as the one whom the disciples heard, saw and touched (1 John 1:1-4). Since both writings were in Greek, it was natural to use a familiar word but with a wholly different connotation. A similar example is of the Qur’an where in Arabic ‘Amr’ and ‘Kalimah’ are the two words used.

Notes on Chapter 11:

  1. Kamal-ud-Din, The Sources of Christianity, p.15.
  2. Aziz-us-Samad, A comparative study of Christianity and Islam, p.71.
  3. Tisdall, The Sources of Islam, p.11.
  4. ibid., pp.79-81.
  5. Tisdall, The Original Sources of the Qur‘an, p. 230.
  6. Kamal-ud-Din, The Sources of Christianity, p.35
  7. Abdul Haque, Muhammad in World Scriptures, Vol.1, p.395.
  8. Kamal-ud-Din, The Sources of Christianity, p.61.
  9. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p.70.
  10. Kamal-ud-Din, The Sources of Christianity, p.76.
  11. Deedat, Christ in Islam, p.40.
  12. Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Christ in the New Testament and the Qur’an, p.5.