Attis, Cybele, and Jesus
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Attis of Phrygia offers the following similarities to Jesus, according to some critics:

  1. Attis was born on December 25th of the Virgin Nana.
  2. He was considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind.
  3. His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers.
  4. His priests were "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven."
  5. He was both the Divine Son and the Father.
  6. On "Black Friday," he was crucified on a tree, from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth.
  7. He descended into the underworld.
  8. After three days, Attis was resurrected on March 25th (as tradition held of Jesus) as the "Most High God."
  9. Attis was represented as a "a man tied to a tree, at the foot of which was a lamb, and, without doubt also as a man nailed to a tree..."
  10. On March 22nd, a pine tree was felled and "an effigy of the god was affixed to it, thus being slain and hung on a tree..." Later the priests are supposed to have found Attis' grave empty.

Let's see how kind the facts are to these claims.

Shepherd Boy Does Good: Some Background Information

I'm going to begin by providing some relevant background data, as well as some commentary on what modern Attis-related scholarship, such as it is, makes of any alleged connection to Christianity.

Our first mention of Attis comes from the well-known writings of the Greek historian Herodotus [Verm.CA, 88-9]. According to Herodotus, Attis was a shepherd from Phrygia and the son of a king, Croseus of Lydia. King Croseus had a nasty dream in which his son was killed by an iron spear, and because of this, he refused to allow Attis out on a boar hunt, until Attis himself persuaded him that it would be OK.

Still a tad worried, Croseus hires a gent named Adreastus, whom he had earlier granted sanctuary to, to guard his son's welfare on the hunt. Unfortunately, the foot of irony stomps right in when Adreastus throws his spear at a boar and misses, instead hitting you-know-who and killing him.

This is our first mention of Attis, and by now you should be asking, "Where's the beef? How do the copycatters think this relates to Christ?" The answer is, it doesn't -- and that most of the material about Attis that the copycatters get excited over is from a time seriously postdating Christianity.

And as it happens, the general theory of "diabolical mimicry" which the Church Fathers often pulled up in these cases (the idea that Satan copied Christianity), and which many critics make fun of, is actually on the mark 100% (though whether Satan would embarrass himself by taking part in such a crude and obvious theft is another matter).

Attis scholarship, we should note, is rather a small club -- a key name is familiar: M. J. Vermaseren, he who also followed Cumont in the study of Mithra, was a major player; beyond that I have found only five books on Attis available (see source list), and many of them are primarily concerned with Cybele.

But neither Vermaseren, nor any modern scholar of Attis, so much as lays a hint that Christianity stole anything from the Attis cult -- indeed, they aver that the opposite is what happened. Vermaseren notes that all of our information on parallels comes from early Christian writers, and refers to "a tendency to add more and more complicated theories to the Phrygian cult in the course of time." [Verm.CA, 182] Gasparro [Gasp.Sot, 106] avers that the sources show an evolution in the Attis cult in response to Christianity.

A. T. Fear, in an essay devoted entirely to this subject [Fear.CC, 41-2] notes that the Attis cult "did modify itself in significant ways with the passing of the years" and concludes, based on the dated evidence, that the ways of the Attis cult similar to Christianity "seem to have been provoked by a need to respond to the challenge of Christianity." In this case, the church was Pokemon, and the Attis people were doing the Digimon ripoff. But not very well, as we will see.

Now Was That Honest?

It's worth noting that copycat theorists Freke and Gandy refer to Fear's essay in a footnote in The Jesus Mysteries -- but for some reason, do not report Fear's conclusions about how the religion of Attis derived so much from Christianity.

What Has Phrygia to Do with Jerusalem?

Now let's take a look at those alleged similarities.

In conclusion -- the evidence is very clear that Attis had nothing to do with the institution of the Christain faith.

-JPH

Sources

  • Fear.CC -- Fear, A. T. "Cybele and Christ." in Cybele, Attis and Related Cults, Eugene Lane, ed., Brll, 1996.
  • Fraz.AAO -- Frazer, James G. Adonis, Attis, Osiris. University Books, 1967.
  • Gasp.Sot -- Gasparro, Sfameni. Soteriology: Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis. Brill, 1995.
  • Verm.CA -- Vermaseren, M. J. Cybele and Attis: The Myth and the Cult. Thames and Hudson: 1977.
  • Verm.LAGR -- Vermaseren, M. J. The Legend of Attis in Greek and Roman Art. Brill, 1966.