Carrier on early Christian Mysteries from OHJ

 

Element 11: The earliest definitely known form of Christianity was a Judeo-Hellenistic mystery religion. This is also beyond any reasonable doubt, yet frequently denied in the field of Jesus research, often with a suspiciously intense passion. So I shall here survey a case for it.[71]

To say Christianity was a mystery religion is not to say that Christianity is exactly like any other mystery religion, any more than any mystery religion was "exactly like' any other. Often when scholars deny that Christianity was a mystery religion, they really mean it wasn't just one of the already-existing mystery religions superficially overhauled with Jewish concepts. Christianity wasn't "Osiris Cult 2.0'. Which is certainly true. But that's all that anyone's evidence can prove. If instead we define a mystery religion as any Hellenistic cult in which individual salvation was procured by a ritual initiation into a set of "mysteries', the knowledge of which and participation in which were key to ensuring a blessed eternal life, then Christianity was demonstrably a mystery religion beyond any doubt.

If we then expand that definition to include a set of specific features held in common by all other mystery religions of the early Roman era, then Christianity becomes even more demonstrably a mystery religion, so much so, in fact, that it's impossible to deny it was deliberately constructed as such. Even the earliest discernible form of Christianity emulates numerous cultic features and concepts that were so unique to the Hellenistic mystery cults that it is statistically beyond any reasonable possibility that they all found their way into Christianity by mere coincidence. They formed a coherent, logical and repeatedly replicated system of ideas in every other mystery cult. It would be irrational to conclude the same wasn't so of Christianity. Christianity cannot be understood apart from this fact. And any theory of historicity that fails to account for it cannot be credible.[72]

That Christianity taught eternal salvation for the individual cannot be denied. That it taught that this salvation was procured by initiation rituals (such as undergoing baptism and partaking of the Eucharist) cannot be denied. And that these rituals involved an induction into a set of'mysteries', the knowledge of which and participation in which were key to ensuring a blessed eternal life, is explicitly stated throughout the authentic epistles of Paul—and nearly everywhere else in the NT. In Paul's letters essential Christian doctrines are routinely called mysteries.[73] The NT evinces other common vocabulary of mystery cult, used with the same peculiar connotations, not just mysterion (divine secret), but teleios (mature [as higher ranking initiates]), nepios (immature [as lower ranking initiates]), skene (body [as discardable and unneeded for salvation]), epoptes (witness [to the mysteries]), etc.[74]

In fact, 'in the Pauline epistles we have more than isolated terms and ideas of the type in question. In certain contexts, as, e.g., 1 Corinthians [2.1-3.2], we light upon groups of conceptions which have associations with the Mystery-Religions. This cannot be accidental.'[75] This concept framework is found in other places as well (e.g. 2 Cor. 5; 1 Cor. 4.1; Heb. 5.11-14, etc.). This does not require Christianity to have used these concepts identically to any other mystery cult, any more than any other cult did. It only entails some influence and employment of mystery-cult themes, and that Christianity was constructed in a fashion similar to those cults, even while, like each of them, it remained distinct, with each borrowed element altered by receiving an appropriate Jewish twist.[76] We should thus concur with Jaime Alvarez, who proposes what he calls a 'commensality' approach of 'complex transfers' among mystery cults, Christianity included, such that instead of Christianity being a direct reworking of a specific preceding mystery cult (which it is not), we should see it as the reworking of a Jewish cult from a 'common trough of current ideas', including those collectively shared among the mystery cults of its day, transforming them in the process.[77] And yet even transformed, certain fundamental elements remain in common.

All mystery religions centered on a central savior deity (literally called the soter, 'the savior', which is essentially the meaning of the word 'Jesus', as explained in Chapter 6, §3), always a son of god (or occasionally a daughter of god), who underwent some sort of suffering (enduring some sort of trial or ordeal) by which they procured salvation for all who participate in their cult (their deed of torment having given them dominion over death). These deaths or trials were literally called a 'passion' (patheon, lit. 'sufferings'), exactly as in Christianity.[78] Sometimes this 'passion' was an actual death and resurrection (Osiris); sometimes it was some kind of terrible labor defeating the forces of death (Mithras), or variations thereof. All mystery religions had an initiation ritual in which the congregant symbolically reenacts what the god endured (like Christian baptism: Rom. 6.3-4; Col. 2.12), thus sharing in the salvation the god had achieved (Gal. 3.27; 1 Cor. 12.13), and all involve a ritual meal that unites initiated members in communion with one another and their god (1 Cor. 11.23-28). All of these features are fundamental to Christianity, yet equally fundamental to all the mystery cults that were extremely popular in the very era that Christianity arose.[79] The coincidence of all of these features together lining up this way is simply too improbable to propose as just an accident.

Notably all the mystery religions were products of the same sort of cultural syncretism. The Eleusinian mysteries were a syncretism of Levantine and Hellenistic elements; the mysteries of Attis and Cybele were a syncretism of Phrygian and Hellenistic elements; the mysteries of Jupiter Dolichenus were a syncretism of Anatolian and Hellenistic elements; Mithraism was a syncretism of Persian and Hellenistic elements; the mysteries of Isis and Osiris were a syncretism of Egyptian and Hellenistic elements. Christianity is simply a continuation of the same trend: a syncretism of Jewish and Hellenistic elements. Each of these cults is unique and different from all the others in nearly every detail—but it's the general features they all share in common that reflect the overall fad that produced them in the first place, the very features that made them popular and successful within Greco-Roman culture.

Unfortunately we know very much less about these other cults than Christianity, because Christians chose not to preserve any of their sacred literature—sometimes deliberately destroying it, as we might infer from the fate of books 2 and 3 of Hippolytus's Refutation of All Heresies (in which, according to what he says at the end of book 1, he exposed all the secrets of the mystery religions, yet these chapters were mysteriously removed and remain lost to this day). But our ignorance is also due to the fact that much of what the mystery cults taught was kept secret, being so sacred that only initiates sworn to secrecy would be told the true content of the mysteries of each cult (the same was true of Christianity: see Element 13).[80] But enough evidence survives to reconstruct all the common features I've mentioned, and more.

There is one notable exception, the Golden Ass of Apuleius (also known as the Metamorphoses), which is a kind of Acts for the Isis cult (recorded in the fashion of a novel, thus in a sense disguising its sacred nature), which medieval Christians preserved intact. This tells us many things about the religion, including its initiation ritual: the initiation, Apuleius tells us, resembles a 'voluntary death' (instar voluntariae mortis), after which one is 'reborn' (renatus). After you were baptized into the cult (literally, with an ablution of water), the day of initiation became a new 'birthday' and the priest who initiated you became your new father. As Apuleius describes it, 'I approached the border of death, and once the threshold of Proserpina [Lady Death] was crossed, I was conveyed through all the elements, and came back' to life (all of which he again calls a 'rebirth').[81] Christianity's initiation ritual also involved a baptism, and was conceptually identical: you symbolically underwent death and resurrection, and are thereby 'reborn' with a new 'father' (in this case, God—see Element 12although, just like in the Isis cult, in earliest Christianity the one who initiated you could also be called your father: 1 Cor. 4.15).

Mithras cult also involved an initiatory baptism.[82] As did the Eleusinian cult, which even practiced substitutionary baptism on behalf of the dead (to bring salvation to those who hadn't yet been baptized in life), centuries before Christians adopted the same practice, as evident already in the earliest known churches (1 Cor. 15.29), which is yet another unlikely coincidence.[83] In many if not all the mystery cults, these baptisms effected salvation in part by washing away sins, exactly the same function claimed of Christian baptism.[84] Which is another unlikely coincidence (although predating Christianity. Judaism did not have this element until after contact with Hellenism; before that, only blood sacrifice could remove sin).

In Apuleius's account of the Isis cult, initiation was also 'consummated' with a 'sacred meal' on 'the third day' of the completed rites, implying the meal fully united him to his savior god or goddess and his fellow initiates, the very thing accomplished by the Eucharist within Christianity. And just as for Christians, by undergoing these rites the Isis initiate procured eternal life for himself in the hereafter. In other words, personal salvation. There appears to have been a similar sacred meal securing eternal life in the mysteries of Mithras.[85] Thus, for all these reasons, Christianity is certainly in essentials a Hellenistic mystery religion, differing from others only in its Jewish details and framework, just as Mithraism differs from all others in its Persian details and framework, and Isis-Osiris cult differs from all others in its Egyptian details and framework, and so on.

Christianity also conforms to four universal trends distinctive of the Hellenistic mystery religions, and is therefore unmistakably a product of these same cultural trends:

1. syncretism of a local or national system of religious ideas with distinctly Hellenistic ideas (and the ideas of other nations and localities whose diffusion was facilitated by Hellenism);

2. a monotheistic trend, with every mystery religion evolving from polytheism (many competing gods) to henotheism (one supreme god reigning over subordinate deities), marking a trajectory toward monotheism (only one god);

3. a shift to individualism, placing the religious focus on the eternal salvation of the individual rather than the welfare of the community as a whole;

4. and cosmopolitanism, with membership being open and spanning all environments, provinces, races, and social classes (and often genders).

That all four features were universal to all the known mystery religions has been abundantly demonstrated in current scholarship, as has the enormous popularity of these new religions, and the rise of these features and their popularity centuries before Christianity. Christianity fits exactly within this trend and in that respect looks exactly like every other mystery religion developed during this period—indeed, it is a relative latecomer. It is thus an expected phenomenon of its time and evinces an unmistakable transformation of the very different Jewish religion into something more palatably identical to popular pagan religious movements arising from every other 'foreign' culture under the Roman Empire.[86] To understand this we must take a closer look at each element in turn.

(1) Syncretism is the creative merging of religious ideas, borrowing and adapting elements from several religions to create something new. This trend is evident in all the mystery religions,[87] as well as Christianity. This trend indeed parallels the rise of eclecticism in science and philosophy (the merging of different philosophical ideas into a new superior whole, rather than dogmatically adhering to one school of thought), and is thus representative of the entire cultural matrix of the time (which, of course, never ceased: later Christians adopted pagan holidays, such as Christmas, and absorbed pagan gods, in both fact and concept, in the guise of a cult of saints, and a great deal else besides).[88] We'll see more evidence of how this syncretism produced Christianity as we go along. But in general, this so routinely occurred, it would be improbable for Christianity to not also have been a product of it (I answer the usual objections to this in Elements 30-38, but of course it must be noted that syncretists themselves never claim they are borrowing; they always portray what they borrowed as a natural development of their native cult—so hostility to borrowing would produce no barrier to actually doing it).

(2) Christianity's monotheism was also not original. Indeed, it was entirely parallel to the henotheism already popularly promoted by the mystery cults.[89] Within those cults is a clear trend toward a focus on one supreme god and the demotion of other gods to the status of either minions (becoming the equivalent of angels and demons) or 'aspects' of the one God, thus folding numerous gods into one, each being thought a different guise of the same god. This trend is already evident in Herodotus, and thus began even before the Hellenistic period. Christian rhetoric hardly conceals the fact that it is identically henotheistic, with not just the one God (to whom was later assimilated and originally subordinated the additional gods of the Lord Christ and the Holy Spirit), but many other subordinate gods, including a 'god of this world' (i.e., Satan: 2 Cor. 4.4) and a panoply of angels (divine 'messengers') and demons (literally, daimones or daimonia, 'divinities') possessed of all the same roles, attributes, and powers of pagan gods (see my definitions in §3). That they were not called gods is merely semantics, a rather transparent attempt to deploy doublespeak to conceal what was really a syncretism of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism, producing a system of theology that was conceptually identical to pagan henotheism, differing only in the superficial use of words—which difference was itself a product of that syncretism, it being the Jewish contribution; the multiplication of divinities being the pagan one.[90]

This had already been occurring within Judaism before the rise of Christianity, which merely continued the process to its logical conclusion.[91] Thus when Paul says,

We know an idol is nothing in the cosmos, and that there is no God except the one, for although there are ones called gods, either in heaven or on earth (as there are indeed many gods and many lords), yet for us there is the one God, the Father (from whom all things come, and we come to him) and the one Lord. Jesus Christ (through whom all things come, and we come through him) (I Cor. 8.4-6).

Here we have a plain declaration of henotheism: yes, there are many gods, but we worship only two of them, and the second of them we only worship as a subordinate of the other (and thus call that subordinate divinity not 'God' himself but by one of that God's titles. Lord). Spoken like a true henotheist. The only thing unique about it is its restrictions on worship (and a corresponding use of titles)—which derives from Judaism. The rest is pagan.

(3) The third trend was the rise of religious individualism.[92] Under the Hellenistic mystery cults, religion became a personal individual choice to join or not to join (in contrast with old-style paganism in which a public cult was simply maintained regardless of whether anyone participated or believed); and the motivation to participate became an individual reward (personal salvation) rather than a communal reward (such as successful crops and, thereby, the survival of the community). Thus the mystery religions co-opted what had once been agricultural deities (whose dying and rising or descent and ascent originally corresponded to the seasonal fertility of the earth) and reinterpreted their narratives as metaphors for personal salvation (each individual literally sharing in the demigod's dying and rising or descent and ascent, with eternal life as the end product, rather than continued agricultural fertility in the here and now). So the fact that Christianity also turned what was originally a communal aim (the resurrection and salvation of Israel as a whole) into an individualistic one (the resurrection and salvation of individual Christians, hence of only those who individually chose to join the faith— and indeed creating a cultic model for this in the individual resurrection of Jesus) is entirely parallel with what the mystery religions were doing, and thus again fully reflective of the same cultural trend.

(4) Finally, cosmopolitanism was part of the same trend. Each mystery religion explicitly created a new group identity transcending all traditional borders and distinctions. Members of the cult became universal brothers and sisters regardless of their actual family ties or geographical, national, or social origins. Mystery cults were thus no longer restricted to a single city, state, or race, or even social status, but spread everywhere and accepted everyone (whether slave or free, rich or poor, citizen or foreigner; in most cases even male or female), thereby uniting all classes, races, and peoples in a new common humanity.[93] So when Paul writes that 'for in one spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free' and thus we are all brothers (1 Cor. 12.12-13; cf. also Gal. 3.26-29; Rom. 12.4-5; and 1 Cor. 10.17; 12.12-25) he is echoing an ideology that had already been popularized by the Hellenistic mystery religions. Indeed he is here pulling Christianity even more into the orbit of this trend, by doing away with the requirement of initiates to first become Jews through circumcision and other rites (Rom. 10.4-9; Philippians 3; Galatians 2, 5, 6).

This reflected a parallel trend in the rise of associations, guilds, burial clubs and fraternities that also allowed people to explore new group identities.[94] This included the development of'Active kinship language', in which members of a religious cult or fraternity would call one another 'brother' and 'sister' (and sometimes elders of the group 'fathers' and 'mothers'), exactly as Christians did.[95] This was a common practice in mystery cults, too, so again to see it in earliest Christianity is more evidence of it being part of the same trend. In all these cults and fraternities, key to maintaining this Active kinship was the sharing of sacred meals dedicated to their patron god (in which bread, wine and fish were the most common components).[96] Indeed, we know these groups set up rules to keep them reverent, and from degenerating into disrespectful partying or other bad behavior, exactly as Paul seeks to accomplish for the Christian equivalent (in 1 Cor. 11.20-34).[97] Likewise in the mystery cults, sharing in the Lord's meal or baptism or other ritual often united members in a common family by adoption as the sons of their supreme God, thereby making them immortal demigods in the afterlife, like their Savior Lord,[98] which is essentially the view Christians held of their own salvation, as they gained in every respect the glorious, immortal, invincible bodies otherwise only gods enjoyed (1 Cor. 15.35-54; 2 Corinthians 5), and similarly achieved this through adoption as the sons of their supreme God (see next element).

It is therefore undeniable that Christianity was a Judeo-Hellenistic mystery religion, exactly conforming to the trends in religious development that befell nearly every other national culture within the Roman Empire, from the Egyptians to the Persians. Christianity was simply the result of this trend finally befalling the Jews. There may well have been precedents for this already, if Josephus is to be believed in his report that the Essene sect of the Jews conducted itself like a mystery religion, complete with four levels of initiation, including a baptism at the first of them, a communal meal, and swearing to keep the secret of their mysteries even under pain of death (and, of course, a belief in their personal salvation through resurrection).[99] There is also evidence of such mysteries within other varieties of pre-Christian Judaism, which were kept secret from the public.[100] We just know too little about any of these precedents to know how much they may have led to or influenced Christianity.

 

NOTES

 

71. See also Marvin Meyer (ed.). The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (Philadelphia. PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1987), pp. 225-27 (with bibliography pro and con) and pp. 252-54: with Jaime Alvarez. Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras (Leiden: Brill. 2008). pp. 396-97. 420-21. etc.

72. The oft-cited article to the contrary by Bruce Metzger. 'Considerations of the Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity'. Harvard Theological Review 48 (January 1955). pp. 1-20, is so profoundly inept in its analysis that it must be rejected. The argument 'it was different from x. therefore it wasn't influenced by x' (which describes more than half the arguments Metzger deploys) is fallacious to the point of ridiculous: this, as well as nearly every other argument Metzger constructs, would rule out every mystery religion as being a mystery religion (e.g. the argument, on p. II. that certain terms are not found in Paul's letters: that is true of most mystery religions, by Metzger's own admission, pp. 6-7). which of course is so absurd a conclusion as to refute his entire case. His remaining arguments (e.g. that Jews never syncretized their religion with surrounding religions) are simply false, or irrelevant to explaining the origins of Christianity (like the fact that Christianity underwent even more syncretism in later centuries), the same mistakes uniformly plague the analysis of Devon Wiens. 'Mystery Concepts in Primitive Christianity and in its Environment", Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt 11.23.2 (New York: W. de Guyter. 1980). pp. 1248-84.

73. Collectively in the plural in 1 Cor. 4.1 and 13.2 (and 14.2): individually in the singular in Rom. 11.25-26: 16.25-26: 1 Cor. 2.7: 15.51 (and 1 Cor. 2.1 in some mss.; replaced with the more contextually inappropriate martyrion in others). Pseudo-Paulines use the same terminology: Eph. 1.9; 3.3-4. 9: 5.32: 6.19: Col. 1.26. 27: 2.2: 4.3: 2 Thess. 2.5-10 (cf.. e.g.. Rev. 17.5-7); 1 Tim. 3.9. 16.

74. See Rom. 16.25-26; I Cor. 2-3: 2 Cor. 5: Eph. 3.1-10: Col. 1.26-28: 2 Pet. 1.16: Mk 4.11-12: etc.

75. Harry Angus Alexander Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions (London: Hodder& Stoughton. 1913). p. 121 (on mystery religion vocabulary: pp. 115-98). Despite being out of date. Kennedy's study remains correct in many respects, as verified and reinforced in Hugo Rahner. Greek Myths and Christian Mystery (New York: Harper & Row. 1963). and by the scholarship cited in coming notes. I should also note that Samuel Angus. The Mystery-Religions and Christianity: A Study in the Religious Background of Early Christianity (London: J. Murray. 1925) is also obsolete, but still contains a lot of useful data, and like Kennedy, some of his arguments have been confirmed and are now mainstream (though others have been refuted and are now regarded as quaint). By contrast, though often cited, Joscelyn Godwin, Mystery-Religions in the Ancient World (New York: Harper & Row. 1981) is only to be used with caution, being occasionally under-sourced or overstating the facts. Far better references are to follow.

76. Alvarez. Romanising Oriental Gods. pp. 396-97.

77. Alvarez. Romanising Oriental Gods, pp. 420-21.

78. For Christianity: Heb. 2.10; 9.26; Phil. 3.10; 2 Cor. 1.5: Mk 8.31; etc. For other mystery cults see, e.g., Herodotus, Histories 2.171.1 (on the mysteries of Osiris): Plutarch, On his and Osiris (= Moralia) 17.357f, 20.358f (on Osiris and others); Euripides, Bacchae 492, 500, 786, 801. 1377 (on the Bacchic mysteries).

79. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, pp. 229-55 (baptism as a universal ritual in the mystery cults), pp. 256-79 (sacred meals). Recent scholarship confirms the basic picture. On the Bacchic and Eleusinian mysteries: Radcliffe Edmonds III, Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes, and the 'Orphic' Gold Tablets (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Martin Nilsson, The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistic and Roman Age (Lund: Gleerup, 1957); M.L. West, The Orphic Poems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). pp. 1-38; for some practices and terminology: Richard Seaford. 'Dionysiac Drama and the Dionysiac Mysteries', The Classical Quarterly 31 (1981), pp. 252-75. On the Mithraic mysteries: Manfred Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries (New York: Routledge, 2000), cf. esp. pp. 14-15 (with 174 n. 30) and 108-13 on the features it shares with other mystery cults (including the ritual of symbolically emulating the god's labors to achieve personal salvation in the hereafter, and the ritual of sharing a sacred meal with other initiates); see also Marvin Meyer, 'The Mithras Liturgy', in The Historical Jesus in Context (ed. Levine, Allison and Crossan), pp. 179-92; Gary Lease, "Mithraism and Christianity: Borrowings and Transformations', Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt 11.23.2 (New York: W. de Gruyter, 1980). pp. 1306-32 (1309 for the generic features Christianity shares with all mystery cults: the specific influence of Mithraism on early Christianity is unlikely, however—they instead arose around the same time, in a parallel phenomenon of creating mystery cults from major ethnic cults. Persian in the one case, Jewish in the other—they are therefore separate instances of the same phenomenon); Roger Beck. Beck on Mithraism (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004); and Roger Beck, The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), the latter works correcting or superseding David Ulansey's The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); see also Richard Gordon, Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World: Studies in Mithraism and Religious Art (Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1996). On Isis-Osiris cult: Malcolm Drew Donalson, The Cult oflsis in the Roman Empire: Isis Invicta (Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. 2003); Sarolta Takacs, Isis and Sarapis in the Roman World (Leiden: Brill, 1995); Reinhold Merkelbach, Isis Regina, Zeus Sarapis: Die griechisch-dgyptische Religion nach den Quellen dargestellt (Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner, 1995); Sharon Kelly Heyob, The Cult of Isis among Women in the Graeco-Roman World (Leiden: Brill, 1975); and Robert Wild. Water in the Cultic Worship of Isis and Sarapis (Leiden: Brill. 1981). On the Samothracian mysteries: Susan Guettel Cole. Theoi Megaloi: The Cult of the Great Gods at Samothrace (Leiden: Brill. 1984). which surveys evidence of baptisms (31-33), passion plays (48), ritual meals (36-37) and a duo of resurrected gods (1-7). On the mysteries of Attis and Cybele: Lynn Roller. In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele (Berkeley. CA: University of California Press. 1999): Giulia Sfameni Gasparro. Soteriology and Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis (Leiden: Brill, 1985): and Maria Grazia Lancellotti, Attis, between Myth and History: King, Priest, and God (Leiden: Brill. 2002). Note that all of the above literature confirms moral teachings were linked to every mystery cult (a fact still often denied). The Thracian deity Zalmoxis was also anciently believed to have died and risen from the dead, procuring salvation for all who share in his cult (including a ritual eating and drinking), as attested by Herodotus in the fifth century bce. which also suggests an early mystery cult: cf. Herodotus. Histories 4.94-96: Plato. Charmides 156d: and discussion and sources in Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 86. 100-105: and Mircea Eliade, Zalmoxis the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1972). On the Sumerian dying-and-rising gods Innana and Tammuz (Astarte and Adonis) and others like them see Element 31. There were probably many other mystery cults that we know nothing or next to nothing about: see Origen. Against Celsus 6.22 and Michael Cosmopoulos (ed.), Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults (New York: Routledge. 2003).

80. That there nevertheless were 'gospels' in other mystery cults recounting their myths and teachings is certain, as they are referred to in extant texts: for example, for Isis-Osiris cult, Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11.22-23 (cf. 11.28-30) mentions such sacred writings, as does Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris (= Moralia) 80.383e (there called hiera grammata, 'sacred writings') also 5.351f, 352b; the Egyptian Manetho had allegedly written that cult's Holy Bible (Hiera biblos) sometime before the end of the third century bce (notably the very time the Hebrew 'Holy Bible' was supposedly being translated into Greek); cf. J. Gwyn Griffiths, Plutarch's De hide et Osiride (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1970), p. 80. The Dionysiac mysteries also appear to have had a set of gospels no longer extant: Nilsson, The Dionysiac Mysteries, pp. 116-18, 133; West, Orphic Poems, pp. 25-29. Similarly, recovered paraphernalia of the Mithras cult include the equivalent of 'graphic novels' (painted or carved in stone) recounting the narrative of the Mithras gospel. No text survives to tell us what stories the scenes illustrate, but there clearly must have been such a text. The tauroctony or 'bull-slaying' is only the most climactic scene, abundantly represented, but there was a whole sequence of 'story cells', including a miraculous nativity, Mithras dragging the bull to a cave, life springing from its blood, Mithras eating of its flesh, his ascension or exaltation, and various scenes featuring Mithras and the Supreme God (probably Sol Invictus, 'The Invincible Sun').

81. Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11.21-25; 11.16.

82. Tertullian, On Baptism 5. Per Beskow, in 'Tertullian on Mithras', in Studies in Mithraism: Papers Associated with the Mithraic Panel Organized on the Occasion of the XVIth Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, Rome 1990 (ed. John Hinnells: Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider. 1994). pp. 51-60. argues that the Mithraic 'baptism' was only an anointing of the forehead, but that is not a relevant difference. How a baptism was performed would naturally be highly variable from cult to cult (just as it is from sect to sect in Christianity today).

83. See Hans Conzelmann. / Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Philadelphia. PA: Fortress Press, 1975). pp. 275-76: with Plato, Republic 364e-365a. For evidence that Bacchic and Attis cults also regarded their baptisms as 'rebirthing' ceremonies, see Peter Kingsley. Ancient Philosophy. Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press. 1995). p. 264-69: that a Dionysian (i.e.. Bacchic) ritual washed away sins (inherited over many generations): Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, p. 261 n. 37 (cf. Plato. Phaedrus 244d-245a and 265b). the ritual in question most likely the baptism (per the evidence in Conzelmann). That baptism was conceived as part of a 'rebirthing' ceremony in Mithras cult as well: Hans Dieter Betz. The 'Mithras Liturgy': Text, Translation, and Commentary (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck. 2003). p. 51 (lines 505-11).

84. That Jesus through one's baptism awarded liberation from sins (Rom. 6.20-23: Col. 1.13-14) just like Bacchus does in his mystery cult (see previous note), and apparently as baptisms do in the mystery cults generally, see Tertullian. Prescription against Heretics 40 and On Baptism 4-5. In the Osiris cult (as evinced in the Book of the Dead and elsewhere), it was your sins that weighed your soul down in the afterlife, dooming you to a bad outcome (your soul, in the form of your heart, being weighed on a scale against a feather: if your soul is heavier, it is devoured by a monster: lighter, you move on to eternal life): so the fact that baptismal rebirth into communion with Osiris freed you from this outcome entails that this cult. too. held some equivalent concept of washing away or forgiving sins through baptism. See W.B. Ober. 'Weighing the Heart against the Feather of Truth". Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 55 (July-August 1979). pp. 636-51.

85. Justin. Apology 1.66: Tertullian. Prescription against Heretics 40.

86. See Petra Pakkanen. Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion: A Study Based on the Mystery Cult of Demeter and the Cult of Isis (Helsinki: Suomen Ateenan-Instituutin Saatio. 1996): in which see esp. pp. 65-83 for a survey of various pagan mystery religions and their identifiable features. See also Marvin Meyer (ed.). The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (Philadelphia. PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1987): and Alvarez. Romanising Oriental Gods.

87. See Pakkanen. Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion, pp. 85-100. 129-35.

88. On eclecticism in science and philosophy: Richard Carrier. 'Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science', in Christian Delusion (ed. Loftus), pp. 396-419 (405-406: with p. 416 n. 26). On Christmas (both its date and rituals) being originally pagan: Francis James and Miriam Hill (eds.), Joy to the World: Two Thousand Years of Christmas (Portland. OR: Four Courts. 2000). On the cult of saints being a syncretization (not a direct adoption) of pagan polytheism: Peter Brown. Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), with James Howard-Johnston and Paul Antony Hayward (eds.), The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and that there remained also a definite Jewish background to this process of syncretism in creating the Christian cult of saints: William Horbury, "The Cult of Christ and the Cult of the Saints', New Testament Studies 44 (1998). pp. 444-69.

89. See Pakkanen. Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion, pp. 100-109. 136; Hendrik Simon Versnel, Ter Unus: Isis, Dionysos, Hermes: Three Studies in Henotheism (Leiden: Brill, 1990); and for subsequent development of this trend: Polymnia Athanassiadi and Michael Frede (eds.). Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

90. See Larry Hurtado, 'Monotheism, Principal Angels, and Christology', in The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Timothy Lim and John Collins; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 546-64; and the scholarship on .ludeo-Christian 'principalities and powers' (see Element 37).

91. See, e.g., Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God (Louisville. KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992); Larry Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988); and Alan Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: Brill, 1977).

92. Pakkanen, Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion, pp. 109-21. 130, 136-37.

93. Pakkanen. Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion, pp. 121-28. 130. 137.

94. Pakkanen. Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion, pp. 48-49. 52-54.

95. John Kloppenborg. 'Associations in the Ancient World', in Historical Jesus in Context (ed. Levine, Allison and Crossan). pp. 323-38 (esp. 329). That Christians called one another 'brothers' is evident throughout the Epistles (e.g. I Cor. 7.12: 15.6. 31: see Element 12). Paul considers himself the 'father' of those he converted (1 Cor. 4.15: cf. also Phlm. 10), just as was the practice in Isis cult.

96. See J. Gwyn Griffiths, The Isis-Book: Metamorphoses, Book XI (Leiden: Brill. 1975), pp. 318-19; and following note.

97. Evidence of the same rule-making for other cult's sacred meals: Kloppenborg. 'Associations', pp. 335-36.

98. Edmonds, Myths of the Underworld Journey, pp. 82-108. 198-201. See also Jean-Pierre Vernant, 'Mortals and Immortals: The Body of the Divine', Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays (Princeton. NJ: Princeton University Press. 1991). pp. 27-49.

99. Josephus, Jewish War 2.137-42 and 2.150-53.

100. Explicitly stated in theQumran text 'Hymns of the Just', esp. in 1.1; 3.5: 3.8-12: 4.1; 11.34-36; 13.8-12, 28; 14.21; 15.1-2; 16.22; 18.3; 19.15; 20.9; 21.1-2; 22.13-14: see Robert M. Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-Four Formative Texts (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2006), pp. 887-928. See also James Scott. 'Throne-Chariot Mysticism in Qumran and in Paul', in Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Craig Evans and Peter Flint: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. 1997), pp. 101-19 (esp. 105-106); and Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2003), pp. 1-33 and On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Temple Symbolism in the New Testament (New York: T. & T. Clark, 1995), pp. 59-60.

 


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