Re: Greek Mystery Religions
- --- In ANEemail@example.com, "Jeffrey B. Gibson" <jgibson000@...>
>participates in the death and resurrection of the god? Can anyone
> "Lisbeth S. Fried" wrote:
> > Dear All,
> > Are there (pre-Pauline) mystery religions in which the initiate
direct me to these?
The larger question is whether there were **any** gods who were
thought by the ancients to have died and to have been "resurrected".
The short answer, relying on the article on "Dying and Rising Gods"
by J.Z. Smith in Eliade's _Encyclopedia of Religion_ , is that there
were no such beasties Indeed, the whole category of "dying and rising
gods" and the assertion that there were such entities in the ancient
world is a modern scholarly construct.
Further evidence in support of Smith's claims can be found in PAULINE
BAPTISM AND THE PAGAN MYSTERIES by Gunter Wagner.
You might also want to have a look at the EoR's article on "Mystery
Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon)
May I suggest that an even more encompassing question is which type
of dying and resurrection are you all talking about? Are you talking
about what Crossan calls the life tradition or the death tradition.
If you are talking about the life tradition, - resurrection while
alive - it appears in the Rg Veda as Agni, the priest who dons robes
of fire and makes the self sacrifice. The formula for the ontology of
the life tradition appears in the Rig Veda in the form of Agni and
also appears in Buddhism and Genesis and the Nag Hammadi texts.
The formula for the ordinary human condition is
"Being + self consciousness = (+ontological anxiety)"
The formula for the self sacrifice is
"Being - self consciousness = (-ontological anxiety)
This formula underlies the religious experience in all the major
religions and I speculate on its development in Race and Religion: A
Catholic View in Sam Francis's Race and the American Prospect.
"In a competitive engagement with men from another family, tribe,
nation, or race, you have the choice between two absolutes at
opposite ends of the behavioral range -- you can choose to run or you
can choose to fight. Individuals can run some of the time and
survive, but coordinated group behaviors could not have developed in
human communities if we all ran, every man for himself, from every
confrontation. Coordinated group behaviors developed when one proto-
human family refused to run, stood its ground in the face of
inevitable confrontation, and engaged a common enemy. Since that
decision was made, the human communities that have excelled in
competitive engagements with other communities have done so by
disciplining themselves to face death under the stress of repeated
A discipline becomes religious when it is taken to its
logical absolute. When you make the conscious decision to disregard
your individual self for an ultimate concern, what you believe to be
the greatest good, you are a religious man. The total commitment of
what is an ancient and noble warrior's perspective is known by many
names but is most often called gnosis in the West and enlightenment
in the East. This very core of all personal religion is a
recognizable self-sacrifice. Its goal is mastery of the body. Jesus
called it -- doing the will of the Father. He made very specific
reference to the self-sacrifice when he said:
"This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me but I lay it
down on my own. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up
again. This command I have received from my Father." 39
Catholics say Jesus is one in being with God, his Father.
Whatever he did was the will of his Father, which was his own will.
Since he was doing what he chose to do, and was God by definition, we
must naturally assume his behavior was flawless and intuitive. To
live perfectly and intuitively is, also by definition, to have
achieved "gnosis" or to be "enlightened." Regardless of how one may
philosophize about the significance of Gnosticism vis-à-vis Christian
doctrine, the technical discipline for achieving gnosis and the
technical discipline for assuming the self-sacrificial role of a
Jesus as Christ are identical. The self-sacrifice is a universal. It
is the common thread that runs through all formal religion, and it
emerges in the oldest religious texts we have.
In the Rig Veda, Agni is chosen by the gods to bring the self-
sacrifice to man. The philosopher Antonio de Nicolas tells us that
Agni is considered first among the gods and even though Agni is only
the representative of the gods, he is the leader of the sacrifice,
and no sacrifice can be efficiently performed without him. An obvious
analog for the Rig Vedic Agni is in Canon 289 regarding the
personhood of Jesus Christ. The canon reads, " The Son of God is
true God, just as the Father is true God, having all power, knowing
all things and equal to the Father " 40
According to this canon, Jesus is the living representative
of God and he is "one in being with the Father."41 The definitive act
of Jesus' life was his sacrifice on the cross. In the earlier Vedic
hymns, Agni is also the representative of the gods. At the same time
he is the leader of the gods who brings the self-sacrifice to man and
he is essential in making a perfect sacrifice.
Ontologically, Jesus and Agni are identical.
I'd found the self-sacrifice 4,000 years ago in the Indus
Valley in the person of Agni and 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem in the
person of Jesus, but I didn't fully appreciate the worldwide scope of
the self-sacrifice until D.T. Suzuki introduced me to Zen:
"The Kamakura era is closely related to Zen, for it was then
that as an independent school of Buddhism, Zen was first introduced
to Japan. Many great masters of Zen ruled the spiritual world of the
time, and in spite of their contempt of learning, learning was
preserved in their hands. At the same time the soldiers thronged
about them, eager to be taught and disciplined by them. The method of
their teaching was simple and direct; not much learning in the
abstruse philosophy of Zen was needed. The soldiers were naturally
not very scholarly; what they wanted was to be not timid before
death, which they had constantly to face."42
The Japanese warriors sought the self-sacrifice to discipline
themselves to face death under the stress of repeated engagement. The
similarities between eastern and western mysticism were due to the
universality of this self-sacrifice.
Jesus is remembered in the Stations of the Cross, a series of
graphic symbols of his self-sacrifice. The Buddha is remembered in
the woodcuts of the yoking of the ox, symbols for the steps in the
self-sacrificial path to enlightenment. Jesus uses parables to teach
religious truths. Zen Buddhists later use koans, literal paradoxes,
to convey religious truths. The Buddha's enlightenment is attainable
by all and so is Jesus' Kingdom of God attainable universally though
faith because the self-sacrifice is a potential within us all.
The self-sacrifice had traveled to the West by way of
Zoroaster and to the East by way of the Buddha. Spiritually
transcending the suppression of the tripartite sacrificial systems
from which they had emerged, the modern Buddhist and Christian
ontologies were egalitarian. Neither their ontologies nor their ideal
societies were dismembered by caste. Priest and warrior were one.
Tripartition was dissolved. Buddhism, born of the Buddha's abrupt
realization, traveled to China and crystallized in Japan to become
what it originally was, the eminently pragmatic discipline of
warriors. Buddha had intuited the ontology of the ancient and
egalitarian self-sacrifice before its dismemberment into caste. Jesus
had made his life an actual demonstration of the warrior's ontology
by deliberately confronting the corruption of the tripartite
sacrificial system in Jerusalem fully aware that the cost would be
his own life. Agni, the Vedic god who brings the self-sacrifice to
man, had also sacrificed his own godly self in the Vedic hymns 2,000
I delve further into the ontology of the self-sacrifice in The Book
of Genesis from a Darwinian Perspective which will be published in
the fall where I point out the formula as it is depicted in the fall
of Adam and Eve.
"Then the pivotal event(s) in human evolution corresponding to Adam
and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit is the expansion of man's
behavioral repertoire accompanied by the rapid evolutionary growth of
the brain culminating in man's knowledge of good and evil. What
Genesis does not specifically say about either of man's two states of
consciousness is easily inferred from the Biblical text. According to
Genesis, in man's original state, before:
The rapid expansion of the behavioral repertoire
The enlargement of the brain
And the emergence of self-consciousness
He generally knew what to do and had little or no sense of self.
Without self-consciousness, he could not continuously ponder his own
mortality and from that we can assume his ability to imagine fear was
In man's current state, again according to Genesis, he often doesn't
know what to do, he does the wrong thing, he is self-conscious and he
hides from God.
Those scientific categories of instinct and acquired behavior are
embedded in this religious language. If you behave instinctively you
intuit what to do and do not have to make a decision based on what
you have learned previously. An organism that behaves instinctively
cannot behave otherwise and does not make conscious mistakes. On the
other hand, if you rely on acquired behaviors you have learned, you
must consciously choose from among many possible behavioral
alternatives in any given situation. You are prone to error and your
awareness of that fact generates ontological anxiety.
Given these few lines from the Bible, literally read, it is clear
that if one wanted to attain the original state of consciousness, the
one intended by the Biblical text, one would have to abandon one's
self-consciousness and learn to intuit appropriate behavior. I
believe I am reading Genesis correctly when I say that one could then
stand in God's presence without fear. This is consonant with theology
for despite countless artistic renderings of a celestial Eden, the
Catholic catechism defines heaven very simply as -- being in the
presence of God.3
The hunger for spirituality, then, is the natural desire of an
evolved self-conscious mind to return to a time (the beginning) and a
place (paradise) before men made tools and plotted the murder of
other men, before the dawn of self-consciousness, when behavior was
intuitive and a "man" could stand in the presence of God without
fear. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says,
"When you disrobe without being ashamed you will not be
Jesus' words in this Nag Hammadi text from 1st century Egypt dovetail
remarkably with the nature of the fall in Genesis. The fall brought
shame and fear (self-consciousness and ontological anxiety).
Returning to God (by abandoning the "self") would remove them."
There may not be many stories in the mystery religions about dying
and bodily resurrection but stories about dying to one's self and
seeing God face to face are ubiquitous (East and West) as I've