Jesus Always Existed

a place for the best evidence of the historical Jesus


Attis of Phrygia is a figure that provides mythicists with several points of correspondence. In this case, however, scholarship on the subject has already affirmed that Christianity stole nothing from the Attis cult, and 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.”1 Gasparro avers that the sources show an evolution in the Attis cult in response to Christianity.2 A. T. Fear, in an essay devoted entirely to this subject, 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.”3 Let’s now see how that works out with reference to specific claims.

Attis was born on December 25th of the Virgin Nana.

December 25th is of no relevance; again, that date was not chosen as the birthdate of Jesus until many centuries after his Resurrection. Even so, I have found nowhere any indication that this date was associated with Attis in any way.

What of Attis’ virgin birth? It is not a “virgin birth,” but rather is a case of artificial insemination, as it were. As the story goes, Zeus (as Jupiter) saw Mt. Agdus, which looked like the goddess Rhea, and in a moment of excitement dropped some of his seed on the mountain, and from this arose a wild and androgynous creature named Agdistis. The gods do not like the obnoxious Agdistis, so Dionysus sneaks up and puts wine in Agdistis’ water to put him to sleep. While he is asleep, Dionysus ties a rope around Agdistis’ genitals, ties the other end of the rope to a tree, frightens him awake, and in the panic causes him to castrate himself. From the resulting blood, a tree springs up, and much later, Nana happens by, picks some of the fruit, and puts it in her lap, and then it disappears, upon which she finds herself pregnant with Attis.4

He was considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind.

This is simply false. In a study devoted entirely to the subject of “salvation theology” of the Attis cult, Gasparro finds no “explicit statements about the prospects open to the mystai of Cybele and Attis,” and “little basis in the documents in our possession” for the idea of “a ritual containing a

symbology of death and resurrection to a new life.”5 Attis was no savior, and was never recognized as such. The closest we get to such an idea concerning Attis is from a writer named Damascius (480-550 A.D.) who had a dream in which a festival of Attis celebrated “salvation from Hades.” We also see some evidence of Attis as a protector of tombs (as other gods also were, guarding them from violation); use of Attis with reference to grief and mourning, but when it comes to the gravestones of devotees of Cybele and Attis, they are “all equally oblivious to special benefits the future life guaranteed by such a religious status.”6 Nothing more than that can be determined, for as Lancelotti notes, the evidence is so meager that “we cannot pronounce with certainty in the existence and content of the mystery cults of Cybele and Attis.”7

His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers.

Freke and Gandy add, based on a note from Godwin that initiates of the Mysteries of Attis “had some form of communion” in which they ate from a tambourine and drank from a cymbal, and then says, “What they ate and drank from these sacred instruments is not recorded, but most likely it was bread and wine.”8

Despite the footnote to Godwin’s text at the end of this sentence by Freke and Gandy, Godwin makes no such assertion in his text; what Godwin does say is that “what they ate or drank we do not know”—not a word is said about it being “likely” bread and wine. Vermaseren, the dean of Attis studies, adds more.9 Vermaseren confirms the use of the cymbals, and the eating and drinking, but suggests that milk was the drink of choice, because wine and bread were forbidden during the Attis festivals; so, if wine and bread were the meal of choice, it would have had to have been an exception to this rule. Nevertheless, all of this information comes from Christian writers…and at best would reflect the sort of communal meal all ancient societies ate (being that bread and wine were by far the most common ancient staples).

His priests were “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.”

It is certainly true that Attis’ priests were eunuchs; they emasculated themselves in imitation of Attis, who, in later stories did this to himself out of grief. However, the priests also cross-dressed, flogged themselves, and danced in a frenzy.10 They did not emasculate themselves “for the kingdom of heaven” (the term is unknown in this context), but in imitation of Attis as an unwitting hermaphrodite (see more below).

He was both the Divine Son and the Father.

This does not match any Christian view, so it is difficult to understand why anyone finds a parallel. Attis is obviously a divine grandson of Zeus, but the title “Divine Son” is nowhere applied to him. As to being a Father, he never was one in the stories, but Frazer indicates that his name “appears to mean simply ‘father,’” and in this context he was the consort of Cybele, the mother goddess.11 No later scholar repeats this idea. Gasparro notes some representations of the infant Attis seemingly as the son of Cybele,12 but at best all we have here is a correspondence of very common familial terms, and Attis had to be someone’s son.

On “Black Friday,” he was crucified on a tree, from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth.

I have found no verification for any of this. Attis died under a tree, not crucified on it; there is no reference to it happening on a Friday, much less a “Black” one. Attis did shed blood, but all it did was make flowers, in some stories.

He descended into the underworld.

Whether Jesus actually did this is open to discussion; it is beyond the scope of this chapter to decide. However, several forms of ancient religion held that many people descended to the underworld after death, so Attis was hardly unique in this regard.

After three days, Attis was resurrected on March 25th (as tradition held of Jesus) as the “Most High God.”

Attis was represented as 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....”

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 found Attis’ grave empty.

These three are intimately related. Is there any indication, generally, of life after death for Attis, in particular a resurrection? Well, yes, but it depends on which story you believe.13

In one story, Attis is getting married, when Agdistis shows up at the wedding to drive the guests insane. The bride dies; Attis then gets upset, falls under a pine (or fir) tree, emasculates himself, and then dies. Agdistis, seeing this, regrets his actions and asks Zeus to resuscitate Attis. Zeus

consents minimally: Attis’ body remains uncorrupted, his hair continues to grow, and his little finger moves continuously.

In another story, Cybele falls in love with Attis, who prefers a nymph. Cybele kills the nymph; Attis goes insane and emasculates himself; from his blood, flowers grow out of the ground, and he turns into a pine tree.

In yet another story, Cybele, who unknown to herself is the daughter of a king, marries Attis; when the king finds out about this, he kills Attis and makes sure the body is never found.

What about the story described above? The closest I can find to this is a story reported by Frazer in which a Phrygian satyr, who was a good flute player, vainly challenged Apollo to a fluting contest and lost…and so he was tied to a tree, then flayed from limb to limb. Frazer suggested, because the satyr was also a comforter of Cybele, that he was somehow to be equated with Attis, but this seems more like creative writing by Frazer, and there is no lamb in the story at all.14

Clearly, there is no resurrection here. Signs of such a doctrine come later, after Christianity gets going; as Fear says, resurrection is a “late-comer to the cult.”15 But in this case we do have some connection with the dates given (though as with Dec. 25th, Mar. 25th is a much later choice of the church with no Biblical verification or apostolic roots).

Based on a calendar dated to 354 A.D.16 there were six Roman celebrations to Attis…all in the second half of March. One on March 22nd was indeed as related—a pine tree was felled, and the figure of Attis attached, although it represents his death under the tree with the figure being affixed to the tree, therefore being no more than a matter of practically depicting the scene, since the figurine of Attis isn’t just going to float along while the tree is carried by the processioneers.

The problem with all of this is that only one of the six feasts known certainly to have crossed paths with early Christianity was on the 27th, which is the only festival attested on a calendar dated 50 A.D. A sixth-century writer says that the Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) instituted the festival on the 22nd. The 23rd was a day of mourning; on the 24th the priests of Attis would flagellate themselves. Then there was a celebration of what some have called a “resurrection” on the 25th, but it is not that at all: This festival, called the Hilaria, celebrated what some have said may be implied to be a return from the underworld, though it is not directly pronounced. Lancelotti offers a different interpretation in which the Hilaria celebrates Attis’ coming to “life” among the dead in the Netherworld—as we might

say in Christian terms, it celebrates Attis’ arrival in Heaven. In any event, the Hilaria is attested to as existing no earlier than the 3rd or 4th century A.D.17

There were undoubtedly joyous celebrations in the cult prior to this, as early as the 1st century, but with reference to Attis returning to life, the sources “do not of course express the idea of a ‘resurrection’ of Attis, of which there is no trace in contemporary sources, but rather the certainty of his survival, either in the form of physical incorruptibility or in that, religiously defined, of his constant presence in the cult beside [Cybele]. Moreover, the mythical image of the body of Attis saved from dissolution and able to grow and move, albeit only in certain features, expresses the idea that his disappearance is neither total nor final.”18

In summary: All of our detailed information on these festivals, with reference to their alleged similarity to Christianity, come from late Christian authors, such as the fourth century writer Firmicus Maternus, 350A.D., who says that Attis comes back to life to comfort Cybele, and connects Attis’ “resurrection” with the return of vegetation, and thus, as Gasparro notes, the term “resurrection” is not suitable, for there is really no death, just a cycle of presence and absence.19

Followers of Attis practiced the taurobolium, or bull-sacrifice, in which the initiate was “born again” when he was bathed in the blood of the bull (or sheep).

The taurobolium as a rite of salvation is not attested until much later than the start of Christianity.20 The slaying of a bull for any purpose is known as early as the second century B.C., outside the Cybele cult; it is attested with reference to Cybele only in the second century A.D. A detailed description of the rite is found, dated 245 A.D., in Rome…but the first description of the taurobolium as having “saving” power is not found until the writings of Prudentius dated 400 A.D. (corresponding to the same time that the March 25th celebration shows up). Prior to this, the rite was only done for the sake of the health of the emperor21, having no significance with reference to personal sin.


[1] M. J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: The Myth and the Cult (Thames and Hudson, 1977), 182.

[2] Sfameni Gasparro, Soteriology: Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis (Brill, 1995), 106.

[3] A. T. Fear, Cybele and Christ in Cybele, Attis and Related Cults, Eugene Lane, ed., (Brill, 1996), 41-2.

[4] Vermaseren, op. cit., 4, 9.

[5] Gasparro, op. cit., 82.

[6] Ibid., 90-94.

[7] Maria Lancelotti, Attis Between Myth and History (Brill, 2002), 110. Earl Doherty, stymied by the lack of evidence for an Attisian soteriology, tries to wend his way around this by saying that a proposition that the Attis cult offered no comfort leaves one “at a loss to explain why such myths and their attendant rituals—equally barren of comfort, presumably—kept the Attis cult, and others, vibrantly alive for centuries and indulged in by millions.” <> Accessed April 15, 2008. It is not said where Doherty gets the figure of “millions” from, but it seems odd that he says this as someone involved in a belief system—atheistic humanism—that offers no such “comfort” itself. Why not suppose that the Attis cult offered some sort of comfort for this life instead? In any event, Doherty is clearly trying to create evidence out of non-evidence.

[8] Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries (Three Rivers Press, 2001), 50. The authors cite page 28 of J. Godwin, Mystery Religions in the Ancient World (Thames and Hudson, 1981). I checked this citation and found no such quote as described.

[9] Vermaseren, op. cit., 118-19.

[10] Ibid., 96.

[11] James G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris (University Books, 1967), 281.

[12] Gasparro, op. cit., 31.

[13] Vermaseren, op. cit., 91-2.

[14] Frazer, op. cit., 288.

[15] Fear, op. cit.

[16] Lancelotti, ibid. 81.

[17] Gasparro, op. cit., 57; Lancelotti, op. cit., 160. A contrary view, offered by Vermaseren (The Legend of Attis in Greek and Roman Art. Brill, 1966), 47, interprets pictures of Attis only dancing, as early as the 4th century B.C., as somehow celebrating his release from death; followed also by Robert Price, Deconstructing Jesus (Prometheus Books, 2000), 91, who says that dancing is “the traditional posture of [Attis’] resurrection.” However, proof of release from death, not just proof of dancing, is required; otherwise the evidence, at most, just as well indicates that later Attis cultists assimilated an episode of dance into their mythology—an episode which may have been for any number of purposes. Why, other than that it is what Price wants to be true, should it be assumed what the specific purpose of Attis’ dance is?

[18] Gasparro, op. cit., 59.

[19] Ibid., 48. Doherty <> offers some peculiar arguments in response to the proper definition of Attis’ return to life as not being a “resurrection.” First, he claims there is a “void in attention paid to the resurrection of their Christ Jesus as an ‘event’,” with much more attention being paid to the crucifixion. “But where is the focus on the resurrection, on Easter Sunday, on the empty tomb and the appearances in flesh?” Doherty asks. “No such thing exists in the epistles. There are a few references to God ‘raising Jesus from the dead,’ and of the believer being ‘raised with him’ to a new life, but there is no more sign of a focus on this as an ‘event’ or of it being reflected in ritual observance than there is in what we can see of the pagan cults.” One might suggest that this might have something to do with Doherty imposing his low-context expectations on the text; but beyond this, it is hard to see where he gets the comparison that Paul has “much to say” about “Christ crucified” versus Christ raised. A word count of relevant terms (“raised/risen,” “cross/crucified”) shows, if anything, that both concepts are mentioned by Paul (whether we count just letters Doherty considers “genuine” or all of them) roughly the same number of times—

about twenty or so each, if each individual use is counted; or just over a dozen times each, if clustered references are counted just once (e.g., Christ is said to be “risen” or “raised” 6 times in 1 Cor. 15).

[20] Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 102-3.

[21] Gasparro, op. cit., 198.