Friday, December 14, 2007

Mithraism: A Widespread Religion and Paul's Familiarity With It - Paul's Hometown Religion

History as clambake

History as clambake.
What was Mithraism, How Did it Affect Paul

Sift through the leftover seaweed. Try to figure out what happened.

Meet Apostle-Servant-Late-Comer Paul, raised Jewish? (Pharisee later?) but consider here the influence of Mithraism on him - from Tarsus, his home town. Explore ideas.

Topic here: The mystery (kept rituals secret)(4) religion, Mithraism. The god Mithra or Mithras. It thrived throughout the ancient eastern and western civilized world, among other religions, and for millennia BCE, and several centuries after. This Mithraic religion as practiced in the Roman Empire provided many of the cultural accretions we now associate with Christianity.

Overview: This religion started in Persia about 4000 years ago (!), spread to Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, North Africa, and Rome-Roman Empire (1) (4). A particular center for Mithraism is listed at Ostia, Rome's port city (2) (4).

Here is Ostia, Italy, now known as "Ostia Antica." See more of it at Italy Road Ways, Ostia.

Other names for Mithraism are Mehr, Mitra, Meitros, Meher, Mihr (1). It is addressed by notables such as Plutarch, see //; Porphyry, see //; Origen, search around in //, and St. Jerome. (1) Apostle Paul converted from Mithraism to become a follower of Jesus (5).

Contemporary small relevances: Martin Luther King wrote about Mithraism, and he was not a man to waste his time. See //

Also, the handshake comes from the "Mithraic greeting of Roman soldiers". See //

Absorbing Practices, Festivities - Interesting but should we get carried away? This site says Mithraism was not the prime competitor for Christianity (4) - a substantial handicap at the time was Mithraism not permitting women initiates, it was secret, with graded positions. And there were many cults. (7) Mithraism also was not formally recognized by Rome, but another - "Magna Mater" was (4). Much still unresolved here, says (4). And Mithraism says this site was not the precursor - for all the uses of old practices and beliefs in new religion, cannot say that Christianity grew out of Mithraism, says (7). Then again (7) is a Christian-committed site, and may not be neutral in weighing the impact of roots. Site (5) goes the other way. Watch who sponsors the site. Think yourself.

Phrases or concepts of Interest:
Are these so? What other carryovers in custom, dogma and wording, are still seen.

Mithra as "Heavenly Light"(1) "Light of the World" (1)(7) spiritual sun (1), god of sun (2)

Mithra as co-equal with supreme being (1)

Daniel and Moses - acts are also those of Mithra (1)(details there)

Mithra as born from "rock" (1)(4)

Mithra as mediator between men and heaven (1)

Mithra part of a holy trinity (1)

Mithra as born of a virgin (1), father divine (1) - but this was also shared with other deities and classical heroes of the time (1)

Virgin titled "Mother of God" (1)(7).

Since women could not join Mithra worship, they belonged instead to Cybele, clubs for the Great Mother. See //

Mithra as celibate in life (1)

Constantine joined Mithraism with Christianity in his conversion?(5)

"No surviving central text" for Mithraism (4)

Mithra as god of light (1)

Seven spirits of God (1)

Soldiers of Mithra (1)

Mithra as the Bull sacrificing himself (1); or bull interchanged with ram, and ram interchanged with lamb in sacrifice, blood of the lamb; or, as Mithra sacrificing the bull (4) and that seems to follow the literal meaning of the art about it. See sacrifice issue at (5). Bull-slaying as "tauroctony" (6)

Initiation ceremony, lead initiate, blindfolded, into cavern, wash with blood and water (1). Then followed seven "grades" (sacraments?) for worshippers (4), and when reaching the highest grade, pater, that person could lead a congregation (4)

Worship in cave (1) (4) or place made to look like a cave.

This is from Corinth, in Greece, but Corinth was part of the Roman Empire. Is it a cave-structure for something like Mithraism, or just a deep well, for a water supply at this hilltop city. Not sure.

Women not permitted as members (4) - This one is still with us in some sects

Mithra valued "self-control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality among followers" (1); and brotherhood as way to unite against evil forces (1)

Mithra birth celebrated on December 25 (1) (7), or winter solstice (5), was adored by shepherds (1)(7)

Sunday sacred as weekly festival of the sun (1)(5)

Last Supper before ascension to heaven to protect the faithful (1)

Head of the Mithraic faith: called "Father of the Fathers" (1)

Death and resurrection (1), but this was also shared with many other deities of the time (1); ascension also a gnostic belief (2); note rock-tomb resurrection of Mithras (5)
Benefits were to be enjoyed in life, not wait to after death (2)

Iconography: Mithras wears Phrygian cap (4), see red French Revolution cap, peak up and facing forward

"Celestial heaven and infernal hell"(1)(7)

Mithra's benevolence would lead to his sympathy and granting immortality and salvation (1)

Final day of judgment, destruction of existing order, light to triumph over the dark (1)(5)(7)

Ritual baptism as purifier, ceremony included wine and bread (1)

Communion liturgy included words re eat my body drink my blood and salvation

Mithras (mythical) died for sins of people and was resurrected (1)

Seven sacraments (5)

Affinity of Mithraism for Paul the Apostle (was he really Jewish or is this Mithraism his prior religion, since he apparently was persecuting on behalf of Rome. Have to find out)
Paul born in Tarsus, where Mithraism started (5) (1). Read this overview of its beliefs, at ://

Source list - balance these as you will. "Christian" sources admit the similarities but deny the connection; non-Christian sources or people just interested in looking things up (as here) delight in the similarities and celebrate the connection as part of humans being human and trying to live a life.

Is Mithra still with us? Here, a fabulous face from a Roman ruin in Croatia. Mithra? Perhaps. Or just someone glaring through the centuries at our nonsense.

(1) "Mithra's Contributions" by Innvista (various contributors, check qualifications but footnotes are given) at //
(2) Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.09.10, "Studies in Mithraism," John R. Hinnels 1995 at at ://
(3) "Mithraism in History and Archeology" - taking too much time to load, so will go back to it://
(4) "Mithraism" by Allison Griffith, at ://
(5) "Mithraism and Early Christianity" by Vexen Crabtree, part of an "eclectic discussion group," points of view rather than presenting other sides, but interesting overview://
(6) "Temple of Mithras" :// See archeological works, sculptures, ruins (arc over head signifying the rock birth/ascension?)

Do your own "images" search for Mithra. Why are contemporarily mainstream "religions" religions, and all others are mere cults?

How did this transfer from one religion, to another that it had persecuted, happen so seamlessly? What elements made possible an easing of the Roman Empire away from Persian-originated Mithraism (and other religions) through Paul, through others and ultimately Constantine, into following a new religion; "Christian."

Were sales techniques at work, as we would expect - rhetoric, persuasion. How were words used to coax believers away from this into that? How new was this Christianity, really. Why and how the flip-flop. It wasn't just somebody doing miracles - that was an on again off again phenomenon, as in any culture.

Fitting the needs of a displaced Rome. Did the new religion absorb the others because it served emerging needs of an over-extended and perhaps under-moral Empire. Was the Empire's military and hierarchical structure, and obsession with administration of everything, already wobbly; and in need of a new focus.

If the Empire fell, where would the bureaucrats, busybodies, enforcers, soldiers and others who come after the inspirational pioneers, find work?

So, was there more at work here promoting the successful spread of a replacement system religion, than just the merits of sincere people converting out of a genuinely felt fervor.

Why ask? The topic follows looking into the identity of a Gdansk iconic painting in the Gdansk, Poland, Cathedral (see post on Sara the Black, patron of the Gypsies, here, at Bogomilia: Sara the Black. The crescent or bull's horns shape beneath are said to be "Mithra's Horns" - and where does that lead? Go there for the basics. This site lists the practices and as we find more, we will add them.

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