Thursday, March 26, 2009

smell of desperation

After Constantine engineered the merger of Christ worshipers with sun worshipers in the fourth century, the creeds solidified and finalized the view of faith we hold today. Not only was this politically expedient, but if gave the church many elements of Mithraism that survive to this day. Christ is depicted in early paintings as the Sun (with rays bursting from his head), Sun-day is the day of rest, and Christmas was moved from January 6 (still the dare for Eastern Orthodox churches) to December 25, the birthday of Mithra. The ornaments of Christian orthodoxy today are nearly identical to those of the Mithraic version: miters, wafers, water baptism, altar, and doxology. Mithra was a traveling teacher with twelve companions who was called the "good shepherd," "the way, the truth, and the life," and "redeemer," "savior," and "messiah." He was buried in a tomb, and after three days he rose again. His resurrection is celebrated every year.
Robin R Meyers, "Saving Jesus from the Church", p. 26

Interesting claims.

Like some of the emergent writers (Meyers seems more liberal than emergent, likely meaning he is what emergent will be), Meyers is not sparing in his use of references and endnotes. The end of the book is 9 pages of notes concerning materials reference throughout the book.

But when it comes to the paragraph above, there is a lack of any such support. He gives no numbers pointing the reader to the endnotes. He gives us no hint of any support for his claims (and considering how major those claims are, such a lack is striking). We have, in other words, merely his word that Christianity is merely a rip-off of Mithraism.

A bit of research would show that his claim is far from unique to him.

An entry to the blog of Ben Witherington, concerning an internet movie that is making the rounds, called 'Zeitgeist'. Witherington shows that the movie is a poorly-research piece of propoganda. It's an interesting read, though Witherington does deal most with how the movie butchers Egyptian religious ideas to try to prove it's point. It's a good study in how such minds (fail to) work (and some of the comments are rather revealing, too).

More directly to what Meyer is trying to say (or spin), is this from Tektonics.

Early in the article, we are shown a numbered list, put together by one Acharya S, which shows what are the supposed parallels and similarities between Mithraism and Christianity, and more importantly the ideas early Christianity stole from Mithraism. Some are exactly what Meyers is claiming.

2. He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
3. He had 12 companions or disciples.
7. He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
8. His resurrection was celebrated every year.
9. He was called "the Good Shepherd" and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
10. He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."

The writer deals with each of these claims further in the article. It is a long article, but well worth reading.

2. He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
Aside from the fact that this is what we would expect from any major leadership figure, especially in a religious context ("He was a great god -- he taught us nothing!"), I have to say that this looks to be the first of several outright "ringers" in the set. I have found nowhere any indication that Mithra was a teacher, traveling or otherwise. (He probably could be called a "master," but what leading figure would not be? And a master in what sense? This is rather a vague parallel to draw!) At any rate, since there is no evidence for this one in any of the Mithraic literature, we issue our first challenge to the pagan-copycat theorists, especially Acharya S: How is it shown that Mithra was a "great traveling teacher"? What did he teach, and where, and to whom? How was he a "master" and why is this a similarity to Jesus?

3. He had 12 companions or disciples.
I have seen this claim repeated a number of times, almost always (see below) without any documentation. (One of our readers wrote to Acharya asking for specific evidence of this one...she did not reply, although she had readily replied to a prior message.) The Iranian Mithras, as we have seen, did have a single companion (Varuna), and the Roman Mithra had two helper/companions, tiny torch-bearing likenesses of himself, called Cautes and Cautopatres, that were perhaps meant to represent the sunrise and sunset (whereas "Big Daddy" Mithra was supposed to be noon), spring and autumn, the stars Albedaran and Antares [Beck.PO, 26] or life and death. (Freke and Gandy absurdly attempt to link these twins to the two thieves crucified with Jesus! - Frek.JM, 51 - because one went to heaven with Jesus [torch up] and one went to hell [torch down]! Why not link instead to Laurel and Hardy, because one was repentant [torch down] and the other was a bully [torch up]!) Mithra also had a number of animal companions: a snake, a dog, a lion, a scorpion -- but not 12 of them.

Now here's an irony. My one idea as to where they got this one was a picture of the bull-slaying scene carved in stone, found in Ulansey's book, that depicts the scene framed by 2 vertical rows with 6 pictures of what seem to be human figures or faces on each side. It occurred to me that some non-Mithraist perhaps saw this picture and said, "Ah ha, those 12 people must be companions or disciples! Just like Jesus!" Days later I received Freke and Gandy's book, and sure enough -- that's how they make the connection. Indeed, they go as far as saying that during the Mirthaic initiation ceremony, Mithraic disciples dressed up as the signs of the zodiac and formed a circle around the initiate. [Frek.JM, 42] Where they (or rather, their source) get this information about the methods of Mithraic initiation, one can only guess: No Mithraic scholar seems aware of it, and their source, Godwin, is a specialist in "Western esoteric teaching" -- not a Mithraist, and it shows, because although writing in 1981, well after the first Mithraic congress, Godwin was still following Cumont's line that Iranian and Roman Mithraism were the same, and thus ended up offering interpretations of the bull-slaying scene that bear no resemblance to what Mithraic scholars today see in it at all. (To be fair, though, Freke and Gandy do not give the page number where Godwin supposedly says this -- and his material on Mithraism says nothing about any initiation ceremony.) However, aside from the fact that this carving is (yet again!) significantly post-Christian (so that any borrowing would have had to be the other way), these figures have been identified by modern Mithraic scholars as representing zodiacal symbols. Indeed, the top two faces are supposed to be the sun and the moon!

10. He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah." Acharya now adds in her latest work the titles creator of the world, God of gods, the mediator, mighty ruler, king of gods, lord of heaven and earth, Sun of Righteousness.
We have several titles here, and yea, though I searched through the works of Mithraic scholars, I found none of these applied to Mithra, other than the role of mediator (not, though, in the sense of a mediator between God and man because of sin, but as a mediator between Zoroaster's good and evil gods; we have seen the "sun" identification, but never that title) -- not even the new ones were ever listed by the Mithraic scholars. There is a reference to a "Logos" that was taught to the Mithraic initiates [MS.206](in the Roman evidence, which is again, significantly after the establishment of Christianity), but let it be remembered that "logos" means "word" and goes back earlier in Judaism to Philo -- Christians borrowed the idea from Philo, perhaps, or from the general background of the word, but not from Mithraism.

And at the very end of the article.

That ends our listing, and thus our conclusion: In not one instance has Acharya made a convincing case that Christianity borrowed anything from Mithraism. The evidence is either too late, not in line with the conclusions of modern Mithraic scholars, or just plain not there. Acharya will need a lot firmer documentation before any of her claims can be taken seriously.

Put simply, the article puts these "parallels" into three kinds, 1) similarities that are unimportant (Mithra worked miracles too, big deal) 2) things without any support in the mythology of Mythra (he didn't sacrifice himself, was born full-grown from rock and not of a virgin, and never died nor was resurrected) and 3) beliefs whose only source comes well after the founding of Christianity, meaning it is more likely that Mithraism borrowed from Christianity than the other way around.

That Meyers should make his statements as if they were known facts smells more of desperation than of any kind of scholarly research. That he should take seriously these claims does not, of itself, put to question the rest of what he writes, or of those he associates with, but it certainly does raise the eyebrows.

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