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the Sacred Bull
Debunking the Jesus-Mithra Connection
by Lewis Loflin
Many writers attempt to use Mithraism to discredit Christianity. While a non-Christian myself, I'm forced to take a hard look at the material I've posted on this website and have come to the conclusion it's false. The claims don't add up, the evidence is lacking. They are little more than anti-Christian propaganda, which is not my purpose here. Let's take a hard look at what do know and don't know. What I present is my opinion based on the best evidence I can find.
The Bible gives no date as such for Jesus' birth. It was certainly not December 25. Going by present weather conditions in Israel, it would have been too cold, snowy, the roads a mess, and no sheep in pastures, etc. It would have been late spring or summer, some guess no later than September. The exact date doesn't distract from Jesus' mission, which to quote a Christian, "The essential fact is that God did enflesh Himself in time and space (1 John 4:2). He was born from a woman on a specific day in a specific year, walked among us, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. This is what we celebrate at Christmas: God was (and is) with us!"
Mithra's birthday was December 25 and that was grafted onto Christianity during the 3rd or 4th centuries. While Jesus was born of a women, the birth of Mithra is in no way similar. There's nothing at all about a manger, three magi, etc. Some claimed Mithra was born of a virgin; he wasn't born of a women at all. According to scholars,
In Mithraic Studies it stated that Mithras was born as an adult from solid rock, "wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him... (Wiki)
The Mithraic Mysteries became popular among the military in the Roman Empire, from the 1st to 4th centuries AD. Temples/sites have been found in Rome and Ostia, in the Roman provinces of Mauritania, Britain, the Rhine, and Danube frontier. Like Christianity and Gnosticism, Mithraism appeared in the 1st. century drawing from the same traditions as the other two. While the name is Persian, there seems little evidence of the cult in Persia itself and it is very different from Zoroastrianism.
It seems likely to have originated in Asia Minor (Turkey) that was once under Persian control until Alexander the Great. The Persians also influenced Judaism, which is why there might seem some similarity. Greek philosophy and culture was the main influence in Christianity. (All the of Gospels were written in Greek, and Paul, a Hellenized Jew, was from Tarsus in Asia Minor. Most of the Church Fathers were Greeks or cultural Greeks.)
Mithraism was an initiatory order, passed from initiate to initiate, like the Eleusinian Mysteries. (Gnosticism and Christianity did this at first, but were written down.) It was not based on a body of scripture, and hence very little written documentary evidence survives. Soldiers and the lower nobility appeared to be the most plentiful followers of Mithraism. There's some evidence in some locations of the empire women were involved. Recently revealed discrepancies such as these suggest that Mithraic beliefs were (contra the older supposition) not internally consistent and monolithic and varied from location to location. This is the problem with secretive "religions" lacking a written scripture.
We just don't know much. No Mithraic scripture or first-hand written account of its highly secret rituals survives, except perhaps a 4th century papyrus, thought to be "atypical." It likely drew from other traditions or modified them. Current knowledge is almost entirely limited to what can be deduced from surviving iconography. So to say Christianity is somehow Mithraism has no basis in fact. Jesus never butchered any sacred bull.
Some claim Mithraism could have overcome Christianity and we would be "Mithric" today. I disagree. It was too secretive and exclusive for the general masses. Its lack of formal organization and set rituals in writing doomed it to small groups. I've seen little to suggest it spread far in Greek speaking regions where Gnosticism seemed more popular. Why would such a cult appeal to slaves and peasants? When the Roman army disappeared in the 4th Century, so did Mithraism.
Christian Art Borrowed from Pagans
When Saint Paul severed Christianity from Judaism, this was more than just Faith versus Law. It was a cultural severing as well. Judaism forbids images (and the worship of any physical object including a man) and supplied few examples for Christian art. Later on even associating with Jews was forbidden to the point of death to stop conversions to Judaism. Christianity triumphed over paganism, but had to adopt its imagery. It "Christianized" many of the symbols and gods of the pagans as well. They simply didn't need Mithras' images as examples, plenty of others were available.
Artists continued to make use of pagan images to depict the new stories of the bible. The way in which Mithras was depicted shooting arrows at rocks causing fountains to spring up was adapted to represent the biblical story of Moses striking Mount Horeb with his staff to release drinking water. Likewise the Heavens, the Earth, the Ocean, the Sun, the Moon, the Planets, signs of the Zodiac, the Winds, the Seasons, and the Elements appear on sarcophagus, mosaics, and miniatures in the fourth to fifth centuries using the same sort of iconography used for Mithras earlier. The "stranglehold of the workshop" meant that the first Christian artworks were heavily based on pagan art, and "a few alterations in costume and attitude transformed a pagan scene into a Christian picture."
The scene of Mithras ascending into the heavens was similarly incorporated into Christian art: after Mithras had accomplished a series of miraculous deeds, he ascended into the heavens in a chariot, which in various depictions is drawn by horses being controlled by Helios-Sol, the pagan sun god. In other depictions a chariot of fire belonging to Helios is led into the water, surrounded by the god Oceanus and sea nymphs.
Others suggests that rather than attempting to find individual references from Mithraic art in Christian iconography, it is better to look for larger patterns of comparison: "with this method, pure coincidences can no longer be used and so the recognition of Mithras as the privileged pagan inspirer of medieval Christian iconography is forced upon us."
In mithraic scenes there are Cautes and Cautopates (the two attendants of Mithras), and in the Christian scenes, which date from the 4th century onwards, the figures are typically Mary and John. In other Christian instances however, these two attendants are other figures, and carry a raised and lowered object reminiscent of the raised and lowered torches of Cautes and Cautopates.
Such figures may be two Roman soldiers armed with lances, or Longinus (Saint Longinus is the name given in medieval and some modern Christian traditions to a Roman soldier who pierced Jesus in his side with a lance while he was on the Cross) and Stephaton offering Jesus vinegar from a sponge. In some instances the clothes of these figures resemble those of Cautes and Cautopates in the earlier Mithraic depictions. The twelve apostles shown in Christian crucifixion scenes with the twelve signs of the zodiac common in Mithraic scenes, as well as identifying a cross-legged posture commonly found in figures in both sets of iconography.
Need I add in statues of Moses, David, etc. that look like Greek athletes or philosophers?
Extracts from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithras
There is also a type of trinity in Zoroastrianism and Hinduism. These are unrelated to the Christian Trinity, a product of Hellenism on Judaism, such as Philo of Alexandria. The Gnostic and Christian Trinities are nearly identical, except the Gnostic Holy Spirit was feminine, the mother of Christ. (Jesus was a spirit in Gnosticism, not flesh.)
Many Christian bashers attempt to meld the Christian Trinity with Mithra, but this is false. To quote,
In Zoroastrianism, Mithra is a member of the trinity of ahuras, protectors of asha/arta, "truth" or "[that which is] right". Mithra's standard appellation is "of wide pastures" suggesting omnipresence. Mithra is "truth-speaking, ... with a thousand ears, ... with ten thousand eyes, high, with full knowledge, strong, sleepless, and ever awake." (Yasht 10.7). As preserver of covenants, Mithra is also protector and keeper of all aspects of interpersonal relationships, such as friendship and love. Related to his position as protector of truth, Mithra is a judge (ratu), ensuring that individuals who break promises or are not righteous (artavan) are not admitted to paradise.
The original Mithra had nothing to do with God the Father of Judaism/Christianity nor was the original Mithra God at all. The syncretistic' Greeks/Romans had an annoying habit of hijacking other "gods" and making them their own. (See Syncretism) But to further quote,
The name Mithra was adopted by the Greeks and Romans as Mithras, chief figure in the mystery religion of Mithraism. At first identified with the Sun-god Helios by the Greeks, the syncretic Mithra-Helios was transformed into the figure Mithras during the 2nd century BC, probably at Pergamum. (Eastern coast of modern Turkey.) This new cult was taken to Rome around the 1st century BC and was dispersed throughout the Roman Empire.
The date of Zoroaster's life is under dispute. Tradition says the 6th century BC, James Darmesteter says as late as 100 BC, and others claim 6000 BC. This came to a head when Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC. The Seleucid kings who gained power following Alexander's death instituted an "Age of Alexander" as the new calendrical epoch. This did not appeal to the Zoroastrian priesthood who then attempted to establish an "Age of Zoroaster." To do so, they needed to establish when Zoroaster had lived, which they accomplished by counting back the length of successive generations until they concluded that Zoroaster must have lived "258 years before Alexander." In other words, nobody knows.
The problem of syncretism continued even under Zoroaster. The reforms of Zoroaster retained the multitudes of pre-Zoroastrian divinities, reducing them in a complex hierarchy to "immortals" who, under the supremacy of the Creator Ahura Mazda. (God) Mithra is a member of the ahuric triad (angels), the protector of truth and justice and the source of cosmic light. Mithra comes to the fore among the created beings. "I created him" Ahura Mazda declares to Zoroaster, "to be as worthy of sacrifice and as worthy of prayer as myself" Mithra gains the title of "Judge of Souls" and is assigned the domain of human welfare (which he shares with the Creator). Mithra occupies an intermediate position in the Zoroastrian hierarchy to aid in the destruction of evil and the administration of the world. He is then the divine representative of the Creator on earth, and is directed to protect the righteous from the demonic forces of Angra Mainyu (Ahriman in later Persian).
Being we don't really know the date of Zoroaster and while this seems a slam dunk for the anti-Christian polemicist, let's look at other facts. If Zoroaster lived in the 6th century BC, the Jews were already in Babylon since the Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC. Babylonian Exile, is the name typically given to the deportation and exile of the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar also occurred during the 6th Century BC. They were freed by the same Zoroastrian Persians. After the overthrow of the Babylonians by the Persian Empire, in 537 BC, the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great gave the Jews permission to return to the land that they came from, and more than 40,000 are as noted in the Biblical accounts of Ezra, and Nehemiah. said to return. In the Bible, Cyrus is an anointed servant of God.
But there is a point of confusion here. Mithra is the "Judge of Souls," but is Jesus? Here the New Testament in the proto-Gnostic John we get a confusing answer. 5:22 (For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son) , and John 5:27. (And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.) claims Jesus. But in John 8:15 (Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.) and John 12:47 (And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.), he denies this and says that he judges no one. This is not consistent with Mithraism either as Mithra was never sent to save the world, but guard it. The idea of "judgment" seems to enter the picture during the Exile period or later.
So who got what from who? The Babylonian Exile was a main turning point in Judaism. Judaism become truly monotheistic, not henotheistic. Their views on issues such as an afterlife, Biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, the central role of the Torah, etc. emerged at this time. Notable as well is many Jews never returned to Israel, but stayed in Babylon to further influence events. Judaism became the Judaism as we know today and during the time of Jesus.
Contradiction: Sol Invictus or Mithra?
Now we come to next problem of Sol Invictus. To quote,
Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was the Roman state-supported sun god created by the emperor Aurelian in 274 and continued, overshadowing other Eastern cults in importance, until the abolition of paganism under Theodosius I. Although known as a god, the term "Unconquered Sun God' is not found on any Roman document...The Romans held a festival on December 25..."the birthday of the unconquered sun." The title Sol Invictus had also been applied to a number of other solar deities before and during this period. Though many Oriental cults were practiced informally among the Roman legions from the mid-second century, only that of Sol Invictus was officially accepted and prescribed for the army... (Wiki)
It seems that Mithra may or may not have been merged with Sol Invictus. To further quote, "Sol Invictus (unconquered sun) was a religious title applied to at least three distinct divinities during the later Roman Empire...the title Invictus was applied to Mithras in private inscriptions by devotees. It also appears applied to Mars." Thus Mithras was not the official god of the Empire. The Christian "Sunday" or "day of rest" was taken from this cult and not Saturday as under Judaism. This was part it seems of a deliberate effort to divorce Christianity even further from Judaism.
But the "experts" can't seem to decide, "The March 25th date coincides with concepts of "new life" and "rebirth" and have been associated by Christianity with Jesus. Other recent Christian commentators also agree that the identification of Christ's birthday pre-dates the Sol Invictus festival, noting the earliest record of the celebration of Christ's birthday on December 25 dates to 243 A.D." That's over 200 years after Jesus' death. This could easily make sense because by the early 2nd Century Judaism had long broken with Christianity and the massive number of pagan converts carried their old beliefs into the new religion. Christianity had not yet separated itself from Gnosticism
There's nothing about Sol Invictus in regards to any Trinity or virgin birth, etc.
Manichaeism was another syncretistic religion of the 3rd century. It incorporated a number of Christian, Gnostic, and Persian ideas/deities including Mithra. When Christians first encountered Manichaeism, they deemed it a heresy, since it had originated in a heavily Gnostic area of the Persian empire. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) converted to Christianity from Manichaeism in the year 387 and I believed was influenced by it. This was shortly after the Roman Emperor Theodosius I had issued a decree of death for Manichaeans in 382 AD and shortly before he declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion for the Roman Empire in 391.
According to his Confessions, Augustine after nine years of adhering to the Manichaean faith as a member of the group of "hearers", he became a Christian and a potent adversary of Manichaeism, seeing their beliefs that knowledge was the key to salvation as too passive and not able to effect any change in one's life. (Wiki)
Persian and Parthian-speaking Manichaeans used the name of Mithra current in their time (Mihryazd, q.e. Mithra-yazata) for two different Manichaean angels. The first, called Mihryazd by the Persians, was the "The Living Spirit," a savior-figure who rescues the "First Man" from the demonic Darkness into which he had plunged. The second, a savior figure, but one concerned with setting up the structures to liberate the Light lost when the First Man had been defeated.
Again, it's easy to confuse the two religions. How Manichaeism may have influenced Christianity continues to be debated...The Manichaeans preserved many apocryphal Christian works, such as the Acts of Thomas, that would otherwise have been lost.
Syncretism was simply a fact of Greco-Roman culture. The Roman world was awash in cults and religions, which the Roman policy for the most part was "hands off." There were so many evolving cults and religions one could always find something in common with Christianity somewhere. Greeks and Romans alike grafted old gods into their new gods. Christianity and it's sister Gnosticism arose from Judaism because of the impact of Hellenism, the merging of Greek philosophy and culture with other religions such as Zoroastrianism. Judaism and Zoroastrianism seemed to have transformed each other during earlier periods. Christianity has more in common with Gnosticism by far than Mithraism.
The claims that Jesus, Mithra, and Sol Evictus are all the same is false. Any similarity with things such as holidays and saints was a product of later Christian syncretism with pagan deities. They will seem similar because they evolved from the same general culture. It's just as likely these religions borrowed from Christianity as the other way around. There is a lot of cultural similarity because Mithraism and Tarsus (the home city of Paul) are both in modern Turkey, which was Greek at time.
Christianity was clearly Unitarian and Jewish at the beginning, Gentile converts grafted a pagan overcoat onto the faith.
Much of the above was extracted from Wiki with many corrections by me.
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