Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

14667Re: Christianity and the Greco-Roman mystery religions (e.g. Mithraism, etc)

Expand Messages
  • Stephen E. Jones
    Jul 22, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      Group

      T minus ~30 minutes!

      Since this list will be terminating in less than 24 hours, and in view of yet another
      non-Christian trotting out the old Jesus=pagan myth, this time Mithraism (or
      should that be Mythraism? <g>), and since some Christian members will no
      doubt be on other lists where they will be confronted with similar claims, here
      is something on the Greco-Roman mystery religions (including Mithraism) I have
      just scanned.

      The first point when an anti-Christian claims there are detailed similarities
      between Christianity and a mystery religion like Mithraism, that "The
      essence of the mysteries lay in their secrecy. ... Thus it was that a complete
      understanding of their secrets perished with the last of their adherents":

      "Mystery Religions. During the NT and subsequent eras the most
      popular religious forms in the Greco-Roman world were those of
      the mystery religions. Some of these had been imported from
      Egypt and the Orient, while others were indigenous to Greece. The
      traditional cults of the Olympic gods were no longer perceived as
      able to fulfill the common person's spiritual needs, and so there
      was a turning to those religions which promised salvation and a
      blessed afterlife. Immortality could be obtained through initiation
      into a secret experience which was intended to save the soul after
      death. ...The essence of the mysteries lay in their secrecy. One
      could incur the death sentence by revealing the mysteries through
      speech, pantomime, dance, or depiction. Thus it was that a
      complete understanding of their secrets perished with the last of
      their adherents. Their influence permeated ancient society so
      deeply, however, that the general outlines can be constructed with
      a considerable degree of certainty. Literally thousands of allusions
      to the mysteries remain in the form of literary references, vase
      paintings, reliefs, frescoes, inscriptions, funerary statues, and so
      forth. We are further aided by the confessions of certain of the
      church fathers who had been initiated into one or more of the
      mysteries, although their accounts are far from unbiased. Much
      religious detective work has been expended upon these ancient
      mysteries." (Kroeger R.C. & Kroeger C.C., "Mystery Religions," in
      Elwell W.A., ed., "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology," [1984],
      Baker Book House: Grand Rapids MI., 1990, Seventh printing,
      pp.742-744)

      So the first question to ask when someone posts something like the following
      about one of the mystery religions, Mithraism:

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      On Thu, 21 Jul 2005 07:12:03 -0000, Chris Doyle wrote
      Re: Faith V Law (formerly Christianity is not the be all and end all):

      CD>Followers of Mithras believed in heaven and
      >hell. They believed that Mithras would purify them of sin and grant
      >them eternal salvation would be theres in the next life. They drank
      >wine ("drink, this is my blood") and ate bread ("eat, this is my
      >body") as part of a eucharist ceremony. Sunday was the holy day, a day
      >of bell ringing and prayer. They celebrated the birth of Mithras every
      >year... on December 25th. Eggs were also very symbolic (probably not
      >chocolate ones though). Before Mithras ascended to heaven to cherish
      >the faithful from above, he held a Last Supper with his companions. [...]
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------

      is what is/are the *primary* source(s)? i.e. if it is a *mystery* religion, in
      which "One could incur the death sentence by revealing the mysteries
      through speech, pantomime, dance, or depiction" (let alone writing) and
      whose "secrets perished with the last of their adherents", then where did
      these *details* come from?

      Note below that the mystery religions followed a "seasonal", "yearly", i.e.
      *cyclical* pattern of "the birth and death of vegetation gods", coinciding
      with seasonal "yearly changes". This is mainly what the claim that
      Christianity's accounts of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus is just a
      borrowing from such pagan religions. But while the idea of "the birth and
      death of vegetation gods" may have helped pagans accept Christianity,
      there is almost nothing in Christianity's *once for all* birth, *suffering*,
      death of Jesus:

      Rom. 6:10 "The death he died, he died to sin ONCE FOR ALL; but
      the life he lives, he lives to God."; Heb. 7:27 "Unlike the other high
      priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for
      his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for
      their sins ONCE FOR ALL when he offered himself."; Heb. 9:12
      "He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he
      entered the Most Holy Place ONCE FOR ALL by his own blood,
      having obtained eternal redemption."; Heb. 9:26 "Then Christ
      would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the
      world. But now he has appeared ONCE FOR ALL at the end of the
      ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself."; Heb. 10:1,2
      "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not
      the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same
      sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those
      who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped
      being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed
      ONCE FOR ALL, and would no longer have felt guilty for their
      sins."; Heb. 10:10 "And by that will, we have been made holy
      through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR
      ALL."; 1 Pet. 3:18 "For Christ died for sins ONCE FOR ALL, the
      righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to
      death in the body but made alive by the Spirit" (my emphasis)

      Certainly there is no historical *Person* in these nature gods who lived
      with His disciples and taught publicly, and whose teachings we have in the
      Gospels, as Jesus did (see later).

      "Seasonal celebrations marked the birth and death of vegetation
      gods and of yearly changes in the forces of nature. The mystic rites
      reenacted a myth concerning a divine figure who suffered some
      sort of violence, was mourned, and then restored to the grateful
      worshipers amid general jubilation. Beside the reenactment-which
      was usually accompanied with music, dancing, and sometimes
      stunning stage effects-there were acts performed, words spoken,
      objects revealed, a sacrifice offered, and a sacramental meal
      shared. Sexual symbols and activities were significantly present.
      Death, marriage, and adoption by the deity were often simulated,
      and in some cases the initiate was actually supposed thereby to
      attain divinity. While noise and wild tumult often accompanied the
      earlier stages of initiation, silence was attendant upon the ultimate
      unveiling of the truth. In the Mithras cult the initiate must lay his
      finger on his lips, address Silence as the symbol of the living,
      imperishable God, and pray, `Guard me, Silence:' The culmination
      of the Eleusinian rites was said to be the display in complete
      silence of a newly reaped ear of corn. Such beatific visions
      guaranteed a blessed afterlife to the initiate. There were within the
      mysteries successive grades of initiation in which truth might be
      perceived in a progressive series. On several occasions Plato
      likened the discovery of philosophic truth to these levels of
      initiation. Theon of Smyrna described five stages, the first of which
      was purification. The second communicated some sort of
      explanation of the rite and an exhortation. There followed a
      revelation of a sacred spectacle, after which the initiate was
      crowned with a garland. Then came the final stage, the happiness
      of knowing that one was beloved of the gods. The objective was
      indeed participation in the divine life. Each of the mysteries had its
      distinctives, although there were great similarities and much
      syncretism in late antiquity. The most famous was that of Eleusis,
      whose cult was officially adopted by Athens. It centered upon
      Demeter, the Earth Mother, and her daughter Persephone, who was
      abducted to the underworld by its god, Hades. There she became
      his bride and queen of the dead. Each year she returned for nine
      months to her mother, who then caused the corn to grow and
      returned fertility to the earth. Demeter, bringing her gift of
      agriculture and civilization, had commanded Eleusis to establish
      her rites, to which anyone who spoke Greek-even women and
      slaves-might be admitted. The Isis cult retold the search of the
      sorrowing Isis for her dead husband, Osiris, who had been slain
      and dismembered by the wicked Set. The cult, closely associated
      with Egypt, celebrated the discovery of the god's scattered
      members and his restoration to life. Apuleius described his own
      initiation into the mysteries of Isis at Corinth. Wildly popular with
      women was the cult of Dionysus with its altered state of
      consciousness and escape from home life. Usually celebrated at
      night, the rites featured dancing on the mountains, the use of wine
      and occasionally drugs, ecstatic madness, sex reversal,
      promiscuity, ritual shouting, the music of flutes and castanets, and
      in earlier times the rending and eating raw of wild animals. Certain
      of these rites were accessible only to female adherents, who were
      called `maenads,' or mad women." (Kroeger R.C. & Kroeger C.C.,
      "Mystery Religions," in Elwell W.A., ed., "Evangelical Dictionary
      of Theology," [1984], Baker Book House: Grand Rapids MI.,
      1990, Seventh printing, p.743) .

      Note also above that "there were great similarities and much syncretism" (i.e.
      "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"
      <http://m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=syncretism> in these
      pagan mystery religions. That explains why the final forms of them had more
      strikinf similarities to Christianity. The mystery religions just did what they always
      did, borrowed elements from other religions (in this case Christianity) and
      wove them into their religion. Those who claim that Christianty borrowed from
      these syncretistic mystery religions are confusing the original with the counterfeits.

      See also below "The cult of Mithras ... admitted only men" which is another
      major difference between it and Christianity, which accepted women on equal
      membership status to men (Gal. 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor
      free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus").

      "The cult of Mithras, often embraced by Roman soldiers, admitted
      only men. The male worshipers of Cybele, great mother of the
      gods, sometimes castrated themselves in the frenzy of her rites, and
      the goddess was served by eunuch priests. Both the Cybele and
      Mithras cults employed the practice of taurobolium, the slaughter
      of a bull whose blood dripped through a grate down onto the
      worshiper who stood beneath. The singer Orpheus, who managed
      to descend to the nether world and return to earth, was credited
      with having instituted various mysteries. Small groups adopted an
      `Orphic' theology which centered on purification and the means
      whereby the soul might escape the prison-tomb of the body and
      ascend to the realm of the blessed. Christian and pagan authors
      alike inveighed against some of the gross and barbarous elements
      associated with the mysteries. Even human sacrifice on a few rare
      occasions may have played a part. Clement of Alexandria
      complained that the mysteries gave instruction in adulterous
      trickery' and that they consisted of murders and burials. W M.
      Ramsav has suggested that the initiate was first exposed to sordid
      scenes of rape and violence, later to visions of tranquility,
      civilization, and productivity. Especially after the advent of
      Christianity, the myths which related the manifold vices of the
      gods as well as the more offensive practices were spiritualized into
      allegories of a more sublime nature. Many features of Christianity
      were adopted into the mysteries of late antiquity. The concept of
      resurrection, for instance, is not attested in these cults until after
      the first century A.D." (Kroeger R.C. & Kroeger C.C., "Mystery
      Religions," in Elwell W.A., ed., "Evangelical Dictionary of
      Theology," [1984], Baker Book House: Grand Rapids MI., 1990,
      Seventh printing, p.743)

      Some have claimed "the practice of taurobolium, the slaughter of a bull
      whose blood dripped through a grate down onto the worshiper who stood
      beneath" (see above) as where the idea of being saved by Jesus' blood
      came from. But the idea of being saved by the blood of a sacrificial animal
      is firmly rooted in the Old Testament and it is *that* blood which is
      claimed in the New Testament. that Jesus fulfilled. There is no mention of
      Jesus being the blood of bulls, as there would be if Christianity was
      derived from Mithraism.

      The remaining quote makes the point I made earlier that, "Christianity is based
      upon a historical person, while the mysteries were based upon myths of gods
      whose experiences were repeated yearly". Also, the mystery religions "were
      in the main devoid of a written revelation and were constantly subject to change",
      so quoting detailed parallels between Christianity and a mystery religion like
      Mithraism is either: 1) false - there is in fact no documented parallel; or 2) if
      there was a documented parallel, it most likely was a case of the mystery
      religion borrowing from Christianity's terminology (however, see below):

      "Scholars have been quick to note the similarities between
      Christianity and the mystery religions. It should be noted that
      Christianity is based upon a historical person, while the mysteries
      were based upon myths of gods whose experiences were repeated
      yearly. The mysteries were in the main devoid of a written
      revelation and were constantly subject to change. Nevertheless,
      Christianity owed a debt to mystery religion. Church fathers such
      as Eusebius, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius held that the mysteries
      were a preparatory stage in Christian enlightenment. Just as Philo
      of Alexandria explained Judaism in terms of Greek mystery
      religion, so the apostle Paul declared that he imparted the wisdom
      of God in the form of a mystery (I Cor. 2:7). Examples of mystery
      concepts applied to Christian truth may be found in Col. 1:26-2:8;
      Rom. 16:25-26; I Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:12, 15; II Pet. 1:16
      contrasts initiation practices with those used in Christian
      revelation. Here, as elsewhere, technical language is borrowed
      from the mysteries. While there might be such borrowings of
      concept and language in the NT, actual vestiges of pagan religion
      were vigorously denounced. There are numerous indications that
      many members of the congregation at Corinth were newly
      converted from mystery cults and still clung to old ways such as
      ceremonial drunkenness, fornication, participation in an idol's
      feast, the noisy clamor of worship, and the ritual cries of women. It
      was a syncretization of Christianity and mystery religion which,
      according to Hippolytus and others, produced the heresies known
      as Gnosticism." (Kroeger R.C. & Kroeger C.C., "Mystery
      Religions," in Elwell W.A., ed., "Evangelical Dictionary of
      Theology," [1984], Baker Book House: Grand Rapids MI., 1990,
      Seventh printing, p.744)

      There are in fact some "mystery concepts applied to Christian truth" in the
      Apostle Paul's and Peter's letters (see tagline for the relevant verses cited
      above). But that is not surprising considering they were missionaries (in
      fact that's what "Apostle" means) to the pagan world, and as missionaries
      have always done they had to put their message in terms their pagan
      hearers were familiar with, while giving them a new uniquely Christian
      meaning.

      Steve

      PS: Note the last verse. The Apostle Peter says, "We did *not* follow
      cleverly invented stories [Gk. mythos] when we told you about the power
      and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were *eyewitnesses* of his
      majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16)!

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      1 Cor. 2:7 "No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been
      hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began."; Colossians
      1:26-2:3 "the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations,
      but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make
      known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is
      Christ in you, the hope of glory. .... My purpose is that they may be
      encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full
      riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery
      of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom
      and knowledge."; Rom. 16:25-26 "Now to him who is able to establish
      you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the
      revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and
      made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal
      God, so that all nations might believe and obey him-"; 1 Cor. 15:42-49 "So
      will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is
      perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in
      glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural
      body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a
      spiritual body. So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living
      being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first,
      but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of
      the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are
      those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are
      those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the
      earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." Php
      3:12,15 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been
      made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus
      took hold of me. ... All of us who are mature should take such a view of
      things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make
      clear to you." 2 Pet. 1:16 "We did not follow cleverly invented stories [Gk.
      mythos] when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus
      Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."
      Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol). http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
      Blog: http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/ Book, "Problems of
      Evolution" http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/PoE/PoE00ToC.html
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------