Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lord Raglan, the “Hero Pattern”, and Pagan Parallels with Jesus

If you haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced to FitzRoy Richard Somerset, the 4th Baron Raglan (1885 to 1964), or just good ol’ Lord Raglan for short, then allow me to happily introduce you.

I don’t want to go into detail about the man himself, but I’ll just mention a few basics.

There is no doubt that he led a varied and very adventurous life. While in the British Army, he served in Southern Sudan between 1913 and 1918 and it was there that he became interested in Cultural Anthropology.

Specifically, he spent a lot of time with the Lotuko people and produced the first Lotuko/English dictionary (Andreas GrĂ¼b, ‘The Lotuho of the Southern Sudan: An Ethnological Monograph.’ Studien zur Kulturekunde, 102 Band, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 1992).

Later in life, he would write many different works, especially on the topics of religion and folklore, even holding the prestigious position of President of the Folk Lore Society which was part of the British Royal Anthropological Institute (

But the work I would like you (dear reader) to consider is his 1936 book, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama.

In this book, Lord Raglan outlines 22 common traits of heroes and/or legendary beings… that are universal among cultures around the world.

Simply put, one may use the list to analyze any given folk hero or legendary figure, and come up with a score of 1 to 22.

Real people score very low typically 5 or below (Charles Darwin scores a 4), while mythical figures score high (Zeus scores a 14, Robin Hood scores a 13, Theseus scores a 20, etc…).

It has been noted that some historical figures can score a little higher. For instance, Alexander the Great can score a 7 depending on which claims about his life are used. Consider other cases where a real person has had folklore or myths added to their lives (i.e. David Korresh, Leif Ericson).

The crux of his argument is that most legendary figures are not based in historical fact, but rather in what he called Ritual Drama.

Using these scores, now commonly referred to as the, “Lord Raglan Scores", one can give a sort of calculation as to how likely a given figure is historical or mythical.

You may be thinking that this sounds like Joseph Campell’s idea of mythical archetypes, influenced by the likes of Otto Rank’s The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, and James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and it is a similar concept, but Campbell was concerned with looking at the psychological aspects of the hero concept (Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, 3rd edition, Phil Cousineau, editor. Novato, California: New World Library, 2003).

Lord Raglan on the other hand was mainly concerned with the historicity of a given figure (The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama by Lord Raglan, Dover Publications edition).

One might also say that his system also represents a sort of red flag or bull shit alarm when looking at stories surrounding actual historical figures... that is to say, a method for identifying the infecting creep of folklore into the life stories of otherwise historical figures.

Here follows the scoring system for the Hero Pattern:
1. The hero's mother is a royal virgin
2. His father is a king and
3. often a near relative of the mother, but
4. the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. he is also reputed to be the son of a god
6. at birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
7. He is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and or giant, dragon, or wild beast
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. becomes king
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws but
16. later loses favor with the gods and or his people and
17. Is driven from from the throne and the city after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death
19. often at the top of a hill.
20. his children, if any, do not succeed him.
21. his body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. he has one or more holy sepulchres.

Let’s see what scores pop up when this system is applied to some mythological and known historical figures. The following scores are from several sources (see references):

Heracles (

His mother, Alcmene, is (1) a royal virgin
and his father is (2) King Amphitryon
who is (3) her first cousin.
He is reputed to be (5) the son of Zeus,
who (4) visited Alcmene in the guise of Amphitryon.
At his birth (6) Hera tries to kill him.
On reaching adulthood he (11) performs feats and fine victories,
after which he (10) proceeds to Calydon,
where he (12) marries the king's daughter,
and (13) becomes ruler.
He remains there (14) quietly for some years,
after which an accidental manslaughter compels him (17) to flee from the country.
He disappears (18) from a funeral pyre (19)
on the top of Mt. Oeta.
His sons (20) do not succeed him.
His body (21) is not found,
and (22) he is worshipped in temples.

Hercules (Heracles) scores 17 points

Krishna (

1. His mother Devaki had several children before having him, thus making her very un-virginal.
2. Devaki almost counts as royalty because her father Devaka was rich enough to afford a dowry of 400 elephants fully decorated with golden garlands, 15,000 decorated horses, 1800 chariots, and the hiring of 200 pretty young ladies to follow her.
3. His father Vasudeva was the son of King Surasena, but was not quite a king.
4. Devaki learned that she was pregnant with someone special when she became pregnant with Krishna; outside from that, her pregnancy and giving birth were normal.
5. Krishna is considered an avatar of the great Hindu god Vishnu.
6. The wicked King Kamsa had imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki, and had killed their previous offspring. He thus followed the footsteps of baby-killers Pharaoh, Herod, and Amulius, who came after Moses, Jesus Christ, and Romulus and Remus.
7. When he was born, he was switched with Yogamaya, daughter of Yasoda and Nanda (mother and father), thus frustrating Kamsa.
8. Yasoda and Nanda return to their home and raise Krishna there.
9. There are some childhood details, such as his learning to dance, his having fun with some gopis, and his fighting some wicked demons.
10. King Kamsa invites Krishna and a friend to a wrestling match, hoping that Krishna will be defeated.
11. But Krishna wins, prompting Kamsa to order Krishna's foster father and several others murdered. Whereupon Krishna kills Kamsa.
12. Krishna marries some beautiful princesses.
13. Krishna helps make a certain Ugrusena king; he himself becomes king after a while.
14. The Kurukshetra War counts against this; Krishna also fights more demons, plays his flute, and has some fun with his gopi groupies. Krishna's fun loving is a rarity among religious prophets; only Jesus Christ comes anywhere close with his turning of water into wine for a wedding party.
15. Krishna delivers the Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna at the beginning of that war.
16. Krishna's family misbehaves, giving Krishna a bad name.
17. Krishna's family and clan are destroyed in a civil war, leaving him to wander around.
18. Krishna shot in the foot by a hunter named "Old Age" (jara); his brother turns into a snake and goes into the sea.
19. Krishna dies in a forest by the seashore.
20. He had no successors.
21. He rose up into heaven.
22. Several places are described as his last resting place.

Lord Krishna scores 21 points

Jesus (
1. His mother is a royal virgin. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke state that Jesus' mother is a virgin. (e.g. Matthew 1:23). The genealogies in the two gospels indicate that Joseph is of royal descent; Mary would partake of royalty by being married to Joseph. (e.g. Matthew 1:1-16).
2. His father is a king. Jesus is regarded to be the Son of God, and God is often referred to as King of Kings.
3. His father and mother are related. There is no match here. Nothing is known about the genealogy of Mary, so this cannot be confirmed. If the early Christians believed that Joseph and Mary were related, then this information did not make it into the Gospels.
4. His conception was unusual. Both the Gospels of Luke and of Matthew state that Jesus was conceived by Mary "from the Holy Spirit" without having engaged in sexual intercourse with a man. (Matthew 1:20),
5. He was said to be the son of God. This is seen throughout the Christian Scriptures. Considering only the first chapter of the Gospel of John, there are seven references to Jesus as the Son of God:
6. 7. as "The Word" being with God.
8. 9. as the "only begotten of the Father."
10. 11. as the "only begotten Son"
12. 13. as "the Lamb of God." (2 times)
14. 15. as the "Son of God." (2 times)
16. There was an attempt to kill the hero while he was a child. In Matthew 2:16, Herod ordered that "all the Children who were in Bethlehem" and its vicinity were to be murdered. (KJV) 3 The NIV says that the slaughter was to be restricted to only male infants.
17. He was spirited away. Matthew 2:13-14 relates how an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt with his family.
18. He was reared by foster parents in a country far away. Matthew 2:15 states that Jesus was raised in Egypt until Herod died, and it was safe for the family to return to Nazareth. Most hero myths involve a foster family. In the case of Yeshua, Joseph was not Jesus' father; Joseph was a type of foster father.
19. Little or no information is known about his childhood. The Christian Scriptures give almost no details about the life of Jesus, from the time that he was circumcised at the age of eight days (Luke 2:21) until his baptism at about the age of 30. The only exception is Luke 2:46-49 where, at the age of 12, he was described as having been taken to Jerusalem at the time of Passover. He is described as debating theological matters with the priests. Presenting the hero as a child prodigy does not appear in the Mythic Hero Archetype being considered here. However, Robert Price states that "it is a frequent mytheme in other hero tales not considered by Raglan..." 1
20. He goes to a future kingdom. Jesus went to Jerusalem just before his last Passover, where he was declared king by the public. John 12:12-13 says that "a great multitude took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: 'Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!' " (NKJ)
21. He is victorious over the king. The passage in John 18:36-37 describes how Jesus demonstrated superior debating skill when interviewed by Pilate. More importantly, Jesus' resurrection which was mentioned in all four Gospels and many additional locations in the Christian Scriptures is the ultimate victory over the king who was responsible for ordering the crucifixion. Pilate ordered Jesus death and Jesus was triumphant. Pilate was not a king; he was a procurator -- a type of governor. But he still had enormous power.
22. He marries a princess. There is no match here -- only the suggestion of a tie-in. There is no record of Jesus having been married. However, some theologians have suggested that the miracle story in which he converts water into wine may have taken place at his own wedding. The Gospels talk extensively about women being in Jesus' retinue during his ministry. In the culture of Palestine during the 1st century CE, these female followers would have had to be married to Jesus and/or the disciples, or they were prostitutes. One assumes the former, because one would otherwise expect the Pharisees to repeatedly and viciously criticize Jesus for moral laxity if he was followed by a crowd of hookers. It has been argued that Jesus was probably married. Jewish society strongly pressured men to marry while young; if Jesus remained single, then one would have expected the Pharisees to criticize him for remaining a bachelor. Luke 8:3 indicates that one of the women who followed Jesus was at least close to King Herod.
23. He becomes king. John 18:36-37 describes how the people of Jerusalem proclaimed him the King of Israel. Pilate jokingly recognizes that the public considered Jesus as a king in Mark 15:12 and John 19:15. In Mark 15:18, the Roman soldiers jokingly referred to him as king of the Jews. A plaque was placed above his head during the execution. It called him "The King of the Jews." (e.g. Mark 15:26).
24. He reigns uneventfully, for a while. He does not reign in the sense of having temporal power. However, Mark 12:27 to 13: describes how he holds court in the Jerusalem temple.
25. He prescribes laws. In Mark 12 and 13, "...He issues teachings, parables, and prophecies, which are taken with legal force by his followers."
26. He loses favor with the gods or his subjects. The Gospels record how the public turns against Jesus and demands that he be crucified. (e.g. John 19:15).
27. He is driven from the throne and city. In Luke 23:26-32, he is led out of the city by Roman soldiers.
28. He has a mysterious death. During Jesus' crucifixion, he died after an unexpectedly short time. (John 19:31-33). More mysterious than that were the events at the time of his death. Luke 23:44-45 describes how the sun stopped shining and the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Matthew 27:51-53 describes major earthquakes sufficiently strong to split rocks. Matthew also discusses the resurrection of many people from their graves, who subsequently entered the city and appeared to many people.
29. He dies at the top of a hill: He was executed on the hill of Golgotha, on top of Mount Calvary.
30. If he has any children, they do not succeed him. There is nothing in the Christian Scriptures to indicate that Jesus had children. It was Jesus brother, James, who succeeded him as leader of the disciples, and the head of the Jewish Christian group in Jerusalem. (Some faith groups regard James as Jesus' step-brother, cousin or friend).
31. His body was not buried: Rather than being buried in an earthen grave, his body was temporarily laid out in a rock cave. At some unknown time between late Friday afternoon, when he was laid in the tomb, and the following Sunday morning, the Gospels all say that Jesus was resurrected. Biblical Scholar Robert Price comments that this "would seem to be within legitimate variant-distance of the ideal legend type."
32. One or more holy sepulchers are built: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built over the place where many Christians believe that Jesus was executed.

Jesus scores 18 to 20 points depending on certain interpretations

Charles Darwin (based on a similar 23 point Raglan Variation)

1. His mother, Susannah Wedgwood, came from an aristocratic family. (0.5)
2. She had four previous ones before having him. (0)
3. his father, Robert Darwin, came from an aristocratic family; his father was the noted biologist Erasmus Darwin. (0.5)
4. No evidence of this. (0).
5. No evidence of this. (0).
6. Even his most fervent admirers consider him 100% human. (0)
7. Does not happen. (0)
8. No need to. (0)
9. He was raised by his biological parents. (0)
10. No infancy details makes this irrelevant. (0)
11. His voyage aboard the Beagle might possibly be interpreted as that, but he becomes convinced of evolution only well after that voyage. (0)
12. He publishes the Origin of Species and other important writings. (0.5)
13. He marries Emma Wedgwood, from his mother's family. (0.5)
14. He gets hailed as a great scientist. (1)
15. He continues to be productive, though it is hard for him to compete with his magnum opus. (0)
16. His discoveries may or may not qualify as "laws"; they are descriptions, not decrees. (0.5)
17. Does not happen. (0)
18. Does not happen. (0)
19. He dies a normal sort of death. (0)
20. in his house. (0)
21. Some of his children become notable scientists, though in different fields. (0.5)
22. His body is buried in Westminster Abbey. (0)

Chuck here scores 4 points.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (based on a similar 23 point Raglan Variation)

1. His mother Rose Fitzgerald was the daughter of a notable Boston politician, John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. (0.5)
2. She had Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. before having JFK, though he died in WWII. (0.5)
3. his father Joseph P. Kennedy was a successful businessman who was involved in politics. (0.5)
4. No evidence of this. (0).
5. No evidence of this. (0).
6. Even the biggest JFK groupies don't claim this. (0).
7. Does not happen. (0)
8. No need to. (0)
9. He was raised by his biological parents. (0)
10. No infancy details makes this irrelevant. (0)
11. He enters politics in his home state, Massachusetts. (0)
12. Defeating Richard Nixon in 1960 is hardly a very great triumph. (0)
13. He married Jacqueline Bouvier, who had come from a rich family. (0.5)
14. He became President. (1)
15. His Presidency was rather tempestuous, with the Bay of Pigs would-be invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. (0)
16. His record was rather mixed; he was slow to support civil rights, and he proposed landing on the Moon only late in his Presidency. (0.5)
17. Does not happen. (0)
18. Does not happen. (0)
19. He was assassinated by a lone lunatic who got a good shot at him. (0)
20. He is killed in his parade car. (0)
21. His son JFK Jr. was a lawyer, journalist, publisher, and sex symbol; his daughter Caroline has not been as notable. (1)
22. His body resides in Arlington National Cemetery. (0)
23. Not sure what would qualify as one. (0)

John scores a 4.5

The death of JFK has been the subject of much speculation and conspiracy theorizing, but calling it a mystery would raise his score only by 1.

You get the point.

Here following are the scores of some more interesting figures (

Moses (20) / Romulus (19) / King Arthur (19) / Perseus (18) / Watu Gunung of Java (17) Mohammad (17) / Beowulf (15) / Buddha (15) / Zeus (14) / Nyikang, a cult-hero of the Shiluk tribe of the Upper Nile (14) / Samson (13) / Sunjata, the Lion-King of Ancient Mali (11) / Achilles (10) / Odysseus (8) / Harry Potter (8) / Czar Nicholas II (14)

As I briefly mentioned earlier, an interesting discussion could be made of scoring actual historical figures that have had their life stories affected by the phenomenon of folklore creep.

People like Alexander the Great, who by many accounts was actually the son of Zeus, or Dionysius. The scores can be slightly altered depending on which accounts one uses. What of Achilles? What of Jesus? Ponder.

The topic of various Pagan parallels with the Jesus stories is often brought up in conversations… but I think the point is not that Jesus is copied off Pagan stories… the better point is that they ALL represent the spectrum of completely typical stories that surround human heroes, including Jesus.

Sure, many of the myths surrounding Jesus probably stem from various 1st century Pagan religions… but so what… so too do those 1st century pagan religions have their own sources and parallels with other earlier Pagan stories.

Nothing out of the ordinary as far as I see with the occurence of Pagan Parallels with the stories heaped on Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. First time on this blog. SWEET! I never knew about Lord Raglan and his scores, I'm going to go buy the book! Now I'm going to check out the other posts you have.