Zeitgeist: The Movie is a "documentary" by musician Peter Joseph. It is comprised of two main ideas. The first compares the stories in the Bible to several from pagan mythology. The second is a long, complicated conspiracy theory wherein bankers are accused of using the international monetary system to start wars (including World War II and the Iran/Afghan war), enslaving people through debt, and blowing up the Twin Towers on 9/11. "Zeitgeist" is German for "spirit of the age" and, in the context of the film, refers to the way modern people base their lives on lies and manipulation.
Is the Zeitgeist movie true?
Before going on to the movie, it is instructive to learn a little more about Peter Joseph and his motivations. Due to security concerns, he does not reveal his real name and address. After finding it difficult to make a living as a musician, he worked in advertising and then as a day-trader. He found both career paths not only highly unsatisfying, but morally corrupt. The deceit and manipulation in advertising introduced him to the dishonest way in which the powerful influence and control the weak. His time as a day-trader disillusioned him about any kind of centralized economic system. Out of this, he developed a specific view of the world that he holds to the exclusion of any other possibility.
The first point in his worldview is that nearly every human development except science is corrupt and artificial. All of modern economics is bogus; the stock exchange is completely contrived, and nothing about our system of economics reflects natural law. We should return to the barter system for our needs and allow free access to all scientific discoveries and industrial inventions. All political systems are artificial. If people were really present in their lives, they would not need politicians to dictate how they should live.
According to Joseph, only science is true and good. Our entire lifestyle and worldview should be based on what we learn from nature, and science should determine our economics, politics, and morality. Philosophy and morality are meaningless unless they are based on the Scientific Method. Economics should be resource-based, not profit-based, and undergirded by an understanding that every person is both responsible for and nourished by every part of the earth.
As a result, Joseph believes that the only relevant spirituality is when mankind understands how the universe works, and then acts based on that understanding. He follows the common atheistic belief that much of religion is controlled by the elite to distract the masses with future paradise so they remain unaware of the ways their leaders take advantage of them. This is exacerbated by the role religion takes in politics as theistic mythology gains the support of civil legislation. Joseph admits that many religions do have good ideas in them. The best are the stories that teach us how to live with each other and the earth. But since he believes there is no God, the dogma is scientifically useless, socially abusive, and, even worse, intellectually dishonest.
Zeitgeist: The Movie originated as a modern art performance. Joseph played percussion instruments in the center of a stage while two large screens on either side of him showed news clippings of war and political hypocrisy that shored up his conspiracy theories. This article, however, will concentrate on the claims Joseph makes about Jesus and the Bible in the film.
The movie opens with a very confusing quote from Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Rinpoche was a Tibetan monk who fled with the Dalai Lama to India. From there, he led a school in Scotland. Changes in his personal life led him to abandon his vows and become a lay-leader, eventually opening a school in Boulder, Colorado. The emphasis in his teachings, and the quote, is that we are to be fully aware of the present. We are to contemplate who we are and the condition of the world and our experience right now. Joseph uses it to encourage his viewers to consider his evidence and acknowledge the "truth" of how world history has been carefully manipulated by the ruling class.
The first section of Zeitgeist: The Movie compares the life and ministry of Jesus to that of several pagan figures. This is consistent with Joseph's personal philosophy, as he believes that every religion is a derivative of those that came before. (He does not presume to know why or how the first religion was developed.) As such, Jesus is a derivative of other religions' mythological characters.
Joseph begins by contemplating the sun. He points out that many ancient pagans associated the sun, which sustains life, with the world's creator. He then makes a correlation between the sun and Jesus—both are the "light of the world" and "the sun/Son of God."
Joseph goes on to list a number of similarities between Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus. The problem is, most of his "similarities" are simply false. Joseph claims that Horus was born on December 25th; we do not know Jesus' actual birthdate. Horus' mother was not only not impregnated by the Holy Spirit, she was not a virgin; her husband died, and she conceived by hovering over his body while in the shape of a bird. Horus was not depicted as the sun; he was a bird. No documentation records Horus teaching at the age of 12, being "baptized," walking on water, being called the truth, the light, etc., or being betrayed. He did not have 12 disciples, he had 4. And he was not crucified. In fact, crucifixion was not even developed until over 2000 years after Horus. Horus did get into a fight and injured an eye, but he was not dead for three days and resurrected.
Jesus is then compared to Attis, the Phrygian god of vegetation, which doesn't fare well, either. Despite Joseph's claims, there is no record that Attis was born on December 25th, or that he was crucified, placed in a tomb, or resurrected after three days.
Joseph's comparisons of Jesus to the Indian god Krishna are especially perplexing. They are based on the book The Christ Conspiracy by Acharya S. But. Hinduism scholar Dr. Edwin Bryant insists that of the 24 similarities, 14 are wrong and one is only half-right. The other 9 are only found in writings from after the life of Christ. It appears the Hindus borrowed from the Christians, not the other way around.
The claims about the similarities between Jesus and Dionysus are also based on evidence originating after the time of Christ. The amulet depicting the crucifixion of Dionysus is from after the 1st century and likely a fake. In regards to Dionysus turning water into wine, he provided wine, as he was known for his indulgence, but there is no mythology stating he could turn water to wine. Neither was Dionysus born of a virgin; he was born after Zeus either disguised himself as a man and seduced Semele, princess of Thebes, or had sex with his daughter Persephone. As for the other claims, there is no evidence that Dionysus was born on December 25th, resurrected after his death, or was called the "King of kings," "only begotten son," or "Alpha and Omega."
The theories surrounding Mithra are also speculative. Added to the confusion is that the original mythology of Mithra was recorded in drawings, not writings, and by the time writings did appear, they were sporadic and contradictory. He was born from a rock, not a virgin in a cave. There is no evidence he was born on December 25th or even died, let alone was raised on the third day. There are similarities, however. Mithra, as a mythological deity, did perform miracles. And his day of worship was on Sunday.
The movie then goes on to give an incredible explanation of Jesus' birth as compared to the zodiac.
First Joseph claims that the story of the Three Kings following the star in the east is a metaphor for the constellation Orion. The "Three Kings" is another name for the three stars in Orion's belt. On December 24th, they align with Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky which happens to be in the east. Thus the "Three Kings" "follow" the star to the east, where the sun rises.
This would all be very interesting except that Jesus was likely not born on December 25th, the wise men were not present at Jesus' birth, and nowhere does the Bible say there were three of them. Also the earliest reference to the stars in Orion's belt being called the "Three Kings" is in 17th-century Dutch star charts.
Next come Mary and Bethlehem. Joseph claims that the names of mythological virgin mothers, such as Mary, Myrrha (mother of Adonis), and Maya (mother of Buddha), start with an "M" because the constellation Virgo (the virgin) is kind of an "m" shape. Virgo is also called the "house of bread" which is the literal translation of "Bethlehem." The evidence falls flat. Neither the Hebrew Mary nor the Hindi Maya begin with anything like an "M" shape. Myrrha was not a virgin; Adonis was conceived after she had relations with her father. And neither was Maya a virgin; she was married to King Suddhodana, although legend says that Buddha was conceived when an elephant entered Maya's side.
The following section explains what occurs during the Winter Solstice. For three days, the sun is at its lowest point, nestled in the constellation the Crux, also known as the Southern Cross. On December 25th, the sun begins to rise and the days become longer. Joseph claims this is the origin of Jesus' death on the cross, His three-day burial, and the resurrection. Again, this would have more validity if the Bible ever claimed that Jesus was either born or raised on December 25th, or if the Southern Cross had been a recognized constellation when the Gospel first spread. From Jerusalem the stars in the Southern Cross were too faint and low on the horizon to be of consequence. And at the time of Jesus, they were enveloped in the constellation Centaurus. The first record of the Crux being identified as an independent constellation is from 1455, and the first credible account is from Brazil in 1500—long after the story of Jesus' crucifixion was widely spread.
The speculation continues, as Joseph equates Jesus' 12 disciples to the 12 signs in the zodiac and the resurrection to the rising sun. The larger portion is taken up with a complicated comparison of the biblical concept of the "age" to the zodiac calendar. He believes that the Age of Aries, the bull, ended with Moses; and Moses was only upset that the Israelites were worshiping the golden calf because it was time to switch to Taurus, the ram. The Age of Taurus continued until the time of Christ when it changed to the Age of Pisces—the two fish as represented by the two fish Jesus used to feed the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21). The pagan fish representation continues, he says, with Jesus meeting two fishermen (Matthew 4:18) and the Christian fish symbol—conveniently neglecting to mention the true origin of the ixthus. Joseph also equates Jesus' instruction for the disciples to follow the man with the water (Mark 14:13) to the coming of the Age of Aquarius. Thus, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b) simply means that the Age of Pisces will continue until the Age of Aquarius. (It should be noted that while Joseph follows Neil Mann's interpretation, which says the age of Pisces started in AD 1—roughly the year of Christ's birth—other astrologers claim it began anywhere from AD 498 to 95 BC.)
It is extremely difficult to respond to these claims. They are so specious and odd that logic can barely find a foothold. It can be said that the two fish motif is fragile, since Jesus had at least four fishermen in His group and His personal sign as adopted by Christians is a single fish. How the ram following the bull could relate to the Bible is uncertain since the most significant ram in the Bible was the one that replaced the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, long before the time of Moses. In addition, although the 12 disciples did exist after the creation of the 12-member zodiac around the 7th century BC, the 12 tribes of Israel predate the zodiac. The zodiac is not the originator of the number 12.
Perhaps the least reliable argument, and one that many atheists have learned not to make, is that the story of Noah's Ark was stolen from the Epic of Gilgamesh and other ancient legends. Yes, many, many cultures around the world have a flood mythology. But this is reason to believe the account, not dismiss it. If a single event occurred to the progenitors of all mankind, it would make sense if many of their descendants around the world knew about it.
In the next section, Joseph compares Moses, the law-giver who was hidden in a basket in a river as a baby, to the Indian Manou, the Syrian Mises, and the Cretan Minos. Following the sources, we find the earliest writing that compares Moses to the others is a book that begins by claiming that all of the planets were once suns, and says that our sun will burn out and become a planet. As for the 10 Commandments sounding like some of the laws in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Joseph admitted in an interview that even he found some validity in religious laws regarding behavior. Paul talked about this in Romans 2:15 where he explains that pagans have God's law written in their hearts. Many laws are common to different cultures for the simple reason that the Creator of man is the originator of law.
One of the more interesting arguments Joseph makes is that Jesus the historical figure never existed. It's interesting because no secular historian of any note makes the same claim. Josephus scholars believe his accounts of Jesus and John the Baptist are original, not added later by deceptive political leaders. Jesus is mentioned in 39 sources over the course of 150 years after His death. Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, notes, "There is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for the historical existence of Julius Caesar."
The final foolish claim is that Jesus was the sun god of the Gnostics. Joseph either failed to understand or did not realize that the Jesus of the Bible is so far off from Gnosticism that the Gnostics had to revoke His human nature just to accept Him. Gnostics believe the divine cannot live with the profane physical. They must either deny Jesus' deity or His humanity. The Bible is clear that Jesus is both God and man. Gnostics resorted to heresy to try to fit Christ into their Greek-influenced belief system. The Gnostic view of Jesus is nowhere close to the truth.
Joseph does have one very valid point, however. It is true that throughout the last 2000 years of human history, power-hungry leaders have twisted and used the Bible to subjugate others for their own gains. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, child abuse, crusades, and genocide. And these actions often over-shadow the parts of the Bible that teach us how to love and care for each other. Christians know that the strength of the Bible is in the Author, not always those who claim to follow His word. But it behooves believers to actually follow the precepts in the Bible and not use Scripture to justify our earthly desires.
It is not in the purview of this ministry to comment on the rest of the film. The Bible does say that the rich will abuse the poor (Proverbs 22:7) and preaches against it (Proverbs 22:22-23). But it does not specifically mention the World Bank or the United States Federal Reserve System. Likewise, it makes no comment on the true perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
What it does stress is that, contrary to the deep humanism that informs Joseph's work, mankind cannot save itself. We are not capable of creating a utopian society that is fair to all and abuses none. Man's heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and it is only by following God, not rejecting Him, that we can hope to have a restored heart (Ezekiel 11:19) and a peaceful world (Isaiah 2:4).
Zeitgeist: The Movie is also a good reminder for us all to be careful of our sources. Second Timothy 4:3 says "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." One of Joseph's primary sources is Acharya S, an American Hindu and proponent of the Christ myth theory. Her works have more critics than supporters, including Christian apologists as well as atheists, who question the accuracy of the historical accounts on which she bases her suppositions. Peter Joseph worked in marketing and understands well how disinformation and half-truths can shape convictions.
But the message is for Christ-followers as well. One of the most lauded congregations of the early Christian church was the Bereans (Acts 17:10-15). After hearing the Gospels, they poured over the Old Testament Scriptures to determine if the claims about Jesus were true. Only after confirming the message with God's word did they accept that Jesus is the Christ. They then continued their studying to ensure they understood the truth. Philippians 2:12 exhorts us to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling." We cannot rely solely on teaching that reaffirms our beliefs; we must study the Bible diligently and rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit Who guides us to all truth (John 16:13).
There are several websites that refute the "evidence" given in Zeitgeist: The Movie. The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (carm.org) lists some here: here.
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