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5990Re: [ANE-2] Greek Mystery Religions

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  • sbudin@camden.rutgers.edu
    Sep 4, 2007

      Quoting Daniel Grolin <dgrolin@...>:

      > Dear ANE-readers,
      > I have recently been looking into the claims that early Christianity
      > was a Mystery Religion. I started reading Furguson's "Backgrounds
      > of Early Christianity" and came to the conclusion that Mystery
      > Religions:
      > 1) adopt myths (Greek or foreign) in which the central figure can
      > plausibly deliver that which is sought for in the afterlife or
      > present.

      Pretty much so, although in many instances there are different
      variations of myths (especially as concerns Dionysos, for example)
      that manifest in the mystery cults, and there are some myths that are
      only known because of their roles in the cults (such as that of
      Despoina in Lykosoura),

      > 2) use "mystery" as a badge of power. To have it sets you aside from
      > the rabble. To reveal it cheapens it.

      Not at all. Except for the mysteries of Mithras, which were only
      open to men, the mystery cults were open to anyone who fit the
      mysteries' criteria. For example, for the Eleusinian mysteries, one
      had to get to Eleusis, pay for the rites (not cheap), speak Greek, and
      be free from blood guilt. Fulfilling those, one could be male,
      female, rich, slave, king, whore, Macedonian. If anything, the
      mysteries were seen to break down social barriers and to create new
      communities, especially in the breakdown of traditional polis-based
      religions in the Hellenistic age.

      > 3) are upper class phenomenons. Which is why the badge provokes
      > little social tension (i.e. those that have power, manifest it).

      No. See above...

      > 4) are not all that concerned with the popular version (Greek or
      > foreign) of the religion that their adapting.

      Not at all. The Eleusinian Mysteries are based on the standard
      myth (so to speak) of Demeter and Kore/Persephone. The cult of Isis
      was adapted to GReek understanding, but still had many of the Egyptian
      purity rituals in place. The Orphics displayed a version of the
      standard myth of Dionysos.

      > I was trying to locate books that would approach Mystery Religions
      > from this sort of perspective (sociological/phenomenological) and,
      > if warranted, support the above conclusions. I started reading S.
      > Angus' "The Mystery-Religions" which sounded promising at first. It,
      > however, reads like an Orientalist approach, harping on and on
      > about the greatness of the Greek, human rights for all, racial
      > equality, etc.. I will finish reading it, but I am on the lookout
      > for something that will actually deliver the above and wasn't
      > written before 1st WW.

      The standard work out there is W. Burkert's _Ancient Mystery
      Cults_. There is also M. W. Meyer's _Ancient Mystery Cults_, and
      finally _Greek Mysteries_ by M.B. Cosmopoulos. These are general
      introductions, but they should get you going, as they say.

      > I have come across a dissertation by Petra Pakkanen, "Interpreting
      > Early Hellenistic Religion: A study based on the cult of Isis and
      > the Mystery Cult of Demeter", which looks very interesting.

      A good work, but more on Hellenistic syncretisms than mystery cults per se.

      I hope this is helpful,
      Stephanie Budin
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