Origins Of The Mithraic MysteriesMithraism was a mystery religion (a religion requiring an initiation rite and secrecy from non-members) popular in the Roman Empire from the first to the fourth century AD. The members met in a cave or other underground structure, known as a mithraeum, and we have found hundreds of them all over the Roman Empire (modern Italy, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Algeria, Israel, and many other countries). The central focus of the mithraeums are an image Mithras killing a bull, accompanied with a dog, a snake, a scorpion, and a raven. These characters are all zodiac symbols.

Is Mithras the origin of the Christ story? Jesus and Mithras do share some properties, but that’s not exactly what comparative mythology says. Comparative mythology merely points out that deities and supernatural beings before/after/during the rise of Christianity have many similar properties. Perhaps some of the concepts are basic human tendencies, like wanting to “defeat” death. Perhaps others are cultural, and many appear to be astronomical. There will be many theories, but unlike scientific theories, there is no real way to test them for validity. They can only be analyzed for probability.

Christians wanting to deny any comparisons to Christianity have claimed that Mithras was not early enough to be a source. However, we have learned from Plutarch that Mithraism was widely practiced in 67BC by Cilician pirates, putting it’s probable origin before that.

The virgin birth of Mithras was celebrated on December 25th, the same as many other mythological characters both before and after the origin of the Jesus story. The celebration of Christmas only goes back to the 2nd century, but it was not observed on December 25th until Pope Julius the 1st picked that date in 350 AD. And, even though Christian tradition today says that Jesus was born of a virgin, this does not appear to be an original aspect of the Jesus story. The earliest accounts of Jesus (the epistles of Paul are commonly dated to 50 AD and the first gospel, Mark, is commonly dated to 70 AD) do not mention a virgin birth at all. The addition of a virgin birth aspect to the Jesus story may be the result of an observations of religions called syncretism, which is the tendency of religions to adopt additional beliefs over time.

Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries by David Ulansey (recommended book)

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3 Comments on “Mithras”

  1. Bradley Skene Says:

    1. No Mithraic specialist accepts Ulansey’s crackpot theory. It an embarrassment in scholarly circles–after the initial negative reviews it is now generally only mentioned in footnotes as infrequently as possible.

    2. A more probable origin of Mithraism is in the royal family of Komagene, which after, the annexation of the kingdom (central Turkey) by Rome, became part of the Senatorial aristocracy in Rome. This would give a date for the origin of Mithraism around 60-75 AD, which agrees quite well with the first documents and monuments appearing around 90, both in central Italy.

    3. Mithras is not a virgin birth. he is born from a rock–probably this is a reference to sunrise over a mountain, appropriate for the birth of a solar deity. There is no young girl impregnated by a deity–no human being is involved at all, it is a cosmic event.

    4. Cilician pirates worshiped Mithras. Many people in Anatolia worshiped Mithras–he is an ancient Iranian god. That is part of Zoroastrian practice, not Mithraism.

    5. I am not a Christian. I have no idea what religion Roger Beck or Gordon may practice privately, but I have never detected a trace of Christian bias in their work, and believe me, I would.

    • I take it you’re not enthralled with his work 🙂
      I’m not sure what the “mainstream” Mithraic specialists have to say about his book. It seemed reasonable enough for me, from a layman’s perspective. I thought the connection to Zoroastrianism was no longer a accepted belief amongst specialists? I would be interested in reading some other points of view on it, I find Mithraism is quote intriguing. Are there some other works you might suggest?

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