James George Frazer’s Golden Bough

Golden BoughOne of the books that I have heard much about and wanted to read was James George Frazer‘s Golden Bough. Although it was first published in 1890, it still is influential even if that influence has wained in recent decades.

What Frazer does in this work is to look at magic and religious rituals around the world and across history. He was able to find that many rituals were similar to each other even if the cultures never had direct contact. Those who find such things interesting will find this book enjoyable.

The reason I read the book was more of his treatment of the dying and rising gods. It is perhaps here that Frazer was most influential. In fact, Frazer’s ideas had a tremendous impact on C.S. Lewis. Lewis accepted the idea of the tradition of the dying and rising gods and it was J.R.R. Tolkien who helped Lewis see the possibility of this myth actually coinciding with history.

Read How J.R.R. Tolkien Helped to Lead C.S. Lewis to Faith

At the same time, Frazer attempts to make the case for a category of dying and rising gods stronger than it really is. A number of the gods that he mentions (e.g. Osiris) are never resurrected after their death. Frazer also lumps all journeys into Hades and back as deaths and resurrections even though the Greek myths depict a world where the living can go to a place called Hades for their quest without actual dying.

Most scholars do not take Frazer as serious as they once did.  Unfortunately, and this is where my interest is, Jesus mythicists still tend to draw upon him. My suggestion is to not let mythicists rely on assertions by Frazer that certain gods belong to the dying and rising type and are therefore a model for Jesus, but make them look at the myths themselves to see the differences with the Gospel accounts.

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