The theme of death and resurrection is a common one in the religions of mankind, starting from the earliest ages. The Egyptian Osiris, the Akkadian Tammuz, the Greek Adonis, and yes, according to Wikipedia, the Christian Jesus. All of these are listed, and many more, under headings of mythology, yes, even under Christian mythology. You can’t blame Wikipedia; they have to stay objective.
What all of these deities, except Jesus, have in common is that they are all in some special way related to the annual cycles of vegetation. Even the Canaanite god Baal is a dying and reviving god. Fraser’s The Golden Bough has taken us on an imaginative, guided tour of many of these deities, and C. S. Lewis has easily debunked the lumping of Jesus into this group of vegetation myths in his writings, and I have nothing to add to either of these.
What I have been thinking of is the effect of these dying and reviving gods on their worshippers. We have little to go on except the historical record of some of their rites, but not much on what, if any, was the moral effect they had. This is where, I think, there is a big difference between Jesus Christ, the only historical figure known to have been executed and resurrected, and all these other gods.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ, even if the world does not accept its reality, has an effect on His followers that is consistent and can be documented from the earliest times until now. In fact, one does not have to be a scholar to research this effect: it is open to anyone who dares to follow Jesus, not just study Him.
Everyone who has followed Jesus has had this experience: There is always something in them which they cannot at any cost keep and still follow Jesus. For some it is a specific experience they desire, something they want to be, or have or do, which they cannot be, have or do and still, in good conscience, claim to follow the Master. Why is this?
Because Jesus is the Word of God, the only Teacher of mankind, and there is a book, the Holy Bible, the only divinely revealed scriptures ever given to humanity, which claims to be the written image of Who He is. Jesus said to His disciples, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Christians have something from Jesus that the devotees of the dying and reviving gods did not have, divinely revealed scriptures, the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Greek New. These two scriptures mean endless trouble for those who want to keep living in the ordinary human way and still try to please God. In fact, they say it’s impossible.
And so, that’s the predicament we find ourselves in, with Jesus.
This is why the only true dying and reviving deity is paradoxically called the Living One, the one who was dead but is alive, while His remedy for His disciples’ dis-ease is, in fact, Death.
Though He was Himself God, He humbled Himself, hiding His glory (as do many of the pagan gods in the myths when they come down to man), assumed the condition of a slave (this none of the pagan gods was able to do), and became as all men are, experiencing with us and for us all that it means to be a human being, including physical death. Somehow, His work for us has achieved what man could not do on his own: He reopened for us the gates of Paradise, and gave us access to the Tree of Life which, it turns out, was the very Tree on which He was suspended between heaven and earth.
But back to us, we cannot have things the way we want and still follow Him on the path He led the repentant thief, the path to Paradise.
Religion would make rules for us, forbidding this and that, and give us methods of self-denial that, if followed religiously, would somehow make us worthy of the Garden, but the makers of religion hide from us and from themselves the certain truth of Christ’s own words, that if we want to live, we must die. Back we are to acknowledging that there are some things we cannot take with us when we follow Jesus into Life, and among those things there will always be at least one that we know we cannot live without. Hence, we must die.
Dying and reviving gods, before Jesus, there were none in reality: all were but myths, mankind’s dreaming of heaven.
Dying and reviving gods, after Jesus, literally following Jesus, there have been, are and will be many: these are they who, laying down their lives for love of Him, follow the Lamb wherever He goes and, like Him, dying they live forever.