Zeitgeist is a documentary that became popular several years ago, and despite being completely false, the ideas that it promoted are still fairly popular on the internet.
Yes. On the internet.
And that’s the only place that it is popular.
You will never find anyone in scholarly circles making these arguments.
Side note: if you are interacting with someone and they point to Zeitgeist as a solid refutation of Christianity, you are most likely dealing with an “Internet Atheist“.
The general idea of this video (part 1) is that the story of Jesus is remarkably similar to the stories of other ancient mythological stories (like Horus and Mithras), and from this we are to conclude that the story of Jesus is nothing but a myth (just like Horus and Mithras).
That is the claim. And if you haven’t seen this part of the internet “documentary”, Zeitgeist… click here.
First off, I’d like to point out what a silly claim that is.
Jesus bears similarities to Mithras and Horus, therefore the story of Jesus is also a myth. Unfortunately for us, Peter Joseph (the man responsible for Zeitgeist) never actually presents an argument. So we can’t dissect an argument. But if this was a formal, deductive argument, it might be something like this:
1. If story X is similar to a mythical story, then story X is mythical.
2. Jesus is similar to the stories of [insert pre-christian deity here, (ex: Mithras)].
3. The story of [pre-christian deity] is a myth.
4. Therefore, the story of Jesus is a myth.
It seems obvious that this argument is false, because premise 1 is demonstrably false. As J. Warner Wallace points out in this article, there are many similarities between the Titanic and the pre-titanic story of the Titan. The similarities are actually quite remarkable. Much more remarkable than the claims made by Zeitgeist… but I digress. Check out that article. I really like Wallace’s perspective on this; he shows that we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised that Jesus is similar to other “pre-christian deities”.
Let’s take a look at premise 2; the idea that the story of Jesus is similar to the stories of other ancient myths. Is the story of Jesus really all that similar to the stories of ancient myths, like Mithras and Horus?
Short answer? No.
In the words of LeVar Burton, “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”
But before you read on, you should watch it first, if you haven’t already.
Grab some popcorn.
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(seriously… watch it)
Wasn’t that hilariously bad? Yes.
Some people actually believe this nonsense.
At this point, I am not going to attempt to refute Zeitgeist myself. It really isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. I am, however, going to point you to some reliable sources where this entire video (and this entire viewpoint that Jesus is yet another myth) is dismantled.
- Are Ancient Myths, Like Osiris and Horus, the Foundation for Jesus’ Life? Dr. Mark Foreman addresses the claim here.
- Dr Glenn Peoples has a post that he calls “Copycat Theories” here, and he has a podcast where he shows how remarkably silly the Zeitgeist is… here.
- Mary Jo Sharp has written a post called “Flawed Theory in Zeitgeist, the Movie“, as well as a two-part podcast called “The Story of Christ and the Pagan Mystery Stories” that goes into a lot of detail.
- Jonathan McLatchie presents a handful of point-by-point rebuttals to many of the claims made by Zeitgeist, over at the Christian Apologetics UK blog, here.
- Dr. William Lane Craig has responded to some of the claims made in Zeitgeist here (article), and here (Q&A video).
- And lastly, Stand to Reason has a post called “The Zeitgeist Movie & Other Myth Claims About Jesus” where Greg Koukl explains why we believe Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure, and not the others. And that is because there are “… good primary source documentation… for Jesus of Nazareth and not for the others.”
So there you have it. Do the research.
And if someone claims that Jesus is similar to other ancient myths… they’re the ones making the claim. They shoulder the burden of proof.
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– – – – – – – – – – – – Now with new skeptical resources! – – – – – – – – – – – – –
A twitter friend of mine, @_Lungfish, suggested that it would be a good idea to show that many atheist/skeptical resources exist that also show the foolishness of Zeitgeist. He suggested I add the following resources, and it was a great idea.
- Doubtcast.org has a good discussion about Zeitgeist.
You can find that here.
The discussion starts around 7:30, after a discussion about natural law and some of Justin Scalia’s statements.
- “The Greatest Story Ever Garbled” by Tim Callahan on Skeptic.com is another good discussion on the topic.
- Edward L. Winston from the SkepticProject has a very detailed examination of Zeitgeist here. And when I say “very detailed”, I mean “veerrryyy detailed”, from the origins of the movement and the cost of the movie to the individual 3 parts. Yes, Zeitgeist is in three parts, only 1/3 of it is a [horrible] criticism of Christianity.
- Rational Wiki has a post with several links to other articles. Rational Wiki.