Is The Bible Plagiarized From Other Religions?

I am a Christian who is going through tremendous doubt. I have recently been reading materials claiming that the life of Jesus and his miracles and crucifixion were largely derived from ancient legends of Krishna and Buddha. Apparently, critics claim that the bible is very much plagiarized from other sources. If you have any information to refute this I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE AN INTELLIGENT RESPONSE. Please help me to sort this out so I can retain my faith in Christ. Please don't evade helping to solve my problem of possible plagiarism and falsehood on Christianity's part. Understand that I am saved and I only wish to clarify my beliefs with reasonable evidence.

Matthew

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for writing. I understand your concern and I realize that this accusation has been levied against Christianity from time to time. Actually, it's not really as big a problem as it seems. Although many objections have been raised to the effect that Christianity mimics various Eastern or "mystery" religions in one way or another, careful study shows these theories fall flat.

One of the easiest ways to show how this assertion has no basis in scholastic fact is to compare the dates of the written documents of Christianity and the religion from which the supposed plagiarism occurred. The manuscript evidence for Christianity shows that the original documents were composed somewhere between 50-90 A.D. Compare this to, say, the writings of Buddhism. Although Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) lived about five centuries before Christ, his teachings were given only orally. They became so fragmented and widely interpreted that a council was convened in the third century B.C. by "Moggaliputta Tissa, it was held in order to purify the sangha of the large number of false monks and heretics who had joined the order because of its royal patronage. This council refuted the offending viewpoints and expelled those who held them. In the process, the compilation of the Buddhist scriptures (Tipitaka) was supposedly completed, with the addition of a body of subtle philosophy (abhidharma) to the doctrine (dharma) and monastic discipline (vinaya) that had been recited at the first council.1"

However, the earliest existing manuscript evidence of Buddhist teachings is the first century A.D. of 60 fragments written on tree bark (see http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/diamondsutra.html ). The Diamond Manuscripts, an early important Buddhist text, is dated at 868 A.D. - over one thousand years after Gautama lived.

Because these texts are so far removed from the Buddha's teachings and Christianity was being aggressively proselytized throughout the near East in the first and second century, it would be scholastically irresponsible to claim that Christianity plagiarized extensively from Buddhist writings. Further, Christianity's scriptures were written only about 30-70 years after the life of Christ by eyewitnesses, so to say that the teachings of Jesus were corrupted by a myriad of outside influences doesn't make sense. This is especially true when one takes into account the reports of Christ were recorded by the eyewitnesses themselves or people who interviewed and wrote down eyewitness testimony.

In his A Ready Defense, Josh McDowell outlines four basic fallacies that people often commit when linking Christian accounts with mystery religions. I summarize them here briefly:2

  1. Combinationism or universalism - This fallacy basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D., amalgamating them together, and saying that they are a coherent belief system from which Christianity borrowed. Many of these religions evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span. To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one when those beliefs weren't necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.
  2. Coloring the Evidence - Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian-type language to describe a belief - and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. In reality the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism that the Christian "counterpart".
  3. Oversimplification - Many critics will find thing such as a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.
  4. Who's Influencing Whom? - This error happens quite often. It consists of assuming that because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition since that religion's founder lived first. The problem is that Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions adopted Christian symbology and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. This can usually be discovered by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn't recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated.

In all, I would think that the best way to approach a claim of Biblical plagiarism is to ask for specifics - exactly what parts of the Bible were plagiarized, from which sources were they plagiarized, and what are the dates of those sources. It is only in this way can we even begin to give the Bible a fair and accurate analysis to the charge. I think you'll find that most people who make this claim are not playing fair. They should view all other religions with the same amount of critical analysis and expect them to measure up to the same error checks as they do Christianity. In doing this, I think you'll find that much of the evidence is very vague and many of the objections become stifled.

For more on this see: "Mystery Religions and Early Christianty" by Bruce M. Metzger from Historical and Literary Studies Lieden, NetherlandsJ. Brill 1968

Christianity and the Hellenistic World by Ronald Nash
Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, Mich. 1984

References

1. - Quoted from "Buddhism" Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia
(c)1998 Microsoft Corporation

2. - McDowell, Josh A Ready Defense
Here's Life Publishers San Bernardino, CA 1990

"Mystery Religions and Early Christianty" by Bruce M. Metzger
from Historical and Literary Studies Lieden, NetherlandsJ. Brill 1968

Christianity and the Hellenistic World by Ronald Nash
Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, Mich. 1984

Share on Facebook Tweet This Like on Google+ Forward to a friend Printer-friendly version Submit a question or comment
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
One of the best apologetics ministries today

Sean McDowell, PhD:

"Come Reason is one of the best apologetics ministries today. Lenny provides resources that are biblical, practical, and timely"
Check out more X