S.G.F. Brandon, ed. The Saviour God: Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation Presented to Edwin Oliver James, Professor Emeritus in the University of London by Colleagues and Friends to Commemorate His Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Manchester University Press, 1963.
This 1963 book was edited by S.G.F. Brandon, who would later go on to write Jesus and the Zealots (see my review of that here). The Saviour God
is a collection of scholarly essays about the concept of salvation in
various religions, including ancient Near Eastern religion, mystery
cults, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, Buddhism, Taoism, Yoruba
African religion, Islam, and Hinduism. “Salvation” is a broad-ranging
term, and it can encompass gaining eternal life, receiving blessings in
the here and now, becoming enlightened or freed from selfishness, being
released from the cycle of reincarnation, or political liberation. A
common thread across these religions (with exceptions) is a reliance on some higher power
for salvation, whether that be defined as a deity, an advanced human
being, or something more impersonal.
At least three issues in particular stood out to me as I read this book:
1. A couple of scholars touched on the question of whether
Christianity influenced certain non-Christian conceptions of salvation.
The Yoruba in Africa have a story about the Supreme Being sending a
divine sort of being (though some versions say he was human) named
Qrunmila to the land to persuade the gods to accept the elements or to
give people guidance and blessing. The author of the essay about this
topic, E.G. Parrinder, does not believe that this story came about
through Christian influence, for “most of these myths seem indigenous
and they are not hard to explain from local materials” (page 121).
While stories about Qrunmila and other African saviors may overlap with
Christianity, it is important to recognize that Yoriba religion and its
treatment of the savior deity have their own emphases, some of which
differ from Christianity; such emphases include divination, a focus on
fertility, and avatars.
Another scholar in the book asked the question of whether certain
Buddhist conceptions of a savior could have been influenced by Nestorian
Christianity, but this scholar chose not to to answer that question.
2. Within popular debates, people wonder if the myth of Osiris had
any influence on the story of Jesus, since Osiris was a dying and a
rising god. Detractors among both Christians and non-Christians
emphatically say “no,” noting that Osiris after he was resurrected
impregnated Isis and went to the underworld to rule, which was quite
different from Jesus’ resurrection (see my post about this topic here). Interestingly, the scholars in The Saviour God
who wrote about Osiris knew a lot of the Egyptian story—-Osiris and
Seth fight, Seth kills Osiris, Osiris is resurrected and impregnates
Isis with Horus, Isis later exacts revenge on Seth, etc.—-but they left
out the part about Osiris going to the underworld soon after his
resurrection. One scholar quoted a passage by Lucius, a participant in
the Isis mystery religion, that denied that Osiris was even under the
earth, placing him instead in some pure, deathless realm. All of this
puzzled me. Was not Osiris the Egyptian lord of the underworld? Did
these scholars not know that? Did Osiris going to the underworld become
more evident to scholars over time? If so, did such a discovery or
fresh reading mark the time when scholars concluded that the
Osiris-Jesus parallel did not hold water?
3. When I was reading David Marshall’s books, an issue that came up
was tribal and Asian acknowledgment of a Supreme Being. Marshall was
criticizing the view that religion went through animist, polytheist,
then monotheistic stages, arguing instead that belief in a Supreme Being
was long a part of tribal and (certain) Asian religions. See my posts
about that topic here, here, and here. Where did the essays in The Saviour God
line up on this issue? The essay about African religions disputed that
the Yoruba religion was animistic instead of theistic, noting a belief
in a Supreme Being, while also acknowledging diversity and complexity.
An essay about Chinese religion, however, regarded Chinese religion as
focused on ancestors initially, before there developed some sort of
belief in a Supreme Being.