Was Christianity Influenced by Mystery Religions?
A common refrain sung by those determined to demolish the Biblical Jesus in the court of As we all should know, mere coincidence does not prove causal connection. Nor does similarity prove dependence." 3 Far from being dependent on mystery religions, Christianity can be correctly . Popular Today. their influence upon the nascent Christian religion is fraught with difficulty. establish a direct causal connection between the pagan mysteries and Christianity, . text reads: “Today having been born again by thee, out of so many myriads. There were the newly created gods, the emperors deified after their deaths—and sometimes before. And there were the gods of the mystery religions, Cybele.
By a series of severe trials, the conspirators were traced and exiled. The speech of the orator Andocidesone of the conspirators, delivered in his defense in or bc, when the old affair was again taken up in a trial, still survives.
The Romans were especially distrustful of secret societies. This suspicion was justified in the case of Catilinewho led a conspiracy that attempted to overthrow the government in 63 bc. Orphic Besides community initiations, there were ceremonies for individual persons of deeper religious longing. Such persons were called Orphics after Orpheusthe Greek hero with superhuman musical skills who was supposedly the author of sacred writings; these writings were called the Orphic rhapsodies and they dealt with such subjects as purification and the afterlife.
Many Orphics seem to have had a strong feeling of sin and guilt. This could be achieved by living an Orphic life, which included abstinence from meat, wine, and sexual intercourse. After death the soul would be judged. If a man had lived a righteous life, his soul would be sent to the meadows of the blessed in Elysium ; but, if he had committed misdeeds, his soul would be punished in various ways and perhaps sent to hell. Following a period of reward or punishment, the soul would be incarnated in a new body.
Only a soul that had lived a pious life three times could be liberated from the cycle. Pythagoreans The Orphic creeds were the basis of the Pythagorean brotherhood, which flourished in southern Italy beginning in the 6th century bc. The Pythagoreans were aristocratic fraternities that sometimes had a political scope. Their main achievements, however, lay in the fields of music, geometry, and astronomy. They discovered that these subjects could be explained by numbers and ratios. Combining Orphic eschatology the study of the last things, especially death and afterlife with their discoveries, they invested music, geometry, and astronomy with religious values.
According to their doctrine, the original home of the soul was in the stars. From there it fell down to earth and associated with the body. Platonists The philosophy of Plato c.
Yet Plato did take up many ideas from earlier Greek religionespecially from the Pythagorean brotherhood and from the Eleusinian communities, and often described his philosophy in terms derived from the mysteries. A value was thus attached to the very act of searching. Plato, Roman herm probably copied from a Greek original, 4th century bce; in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Preussischer Kulturbesitz In the Timaeuswhich is an exposition of his theory of the universePlato also developed his theory of the soul. The earth is surrounded by the spheres of the seven planets; the eighth sphere is that of the fixed stars. Beyond the eighth sphere is the realm of the divine. The sphere of the fixed stars, moved by the divine, continuously turns to the right at an even speed.
This clockwise rotation affects the spheres of the planets, although they have their proper movement, which runs to the left, or counterclockwise. The sphere of mortality begins with the planets. The original home of each soul is in one of the fixed stars. As a result of the movement of the spheres, the soul falls through the planetary spheres to earth, where it is united with the body.
The soul must then try to liberate itself from the body and ascend to the fixed star from which it fell.
In later generations this picture was vividly worked out. The soul, in the course of its fall through the planetary spheres, was thought to acquire the qualities of the planets: The Hellenistic period When Alexander the Great conquered the Asiatic kingdoms as far east as the Indus Riverthe Greek world was extended immensely.
The religious ideas in Greece itself and the western part of the Alexandrian Empire, however, changed very slowly, because the Greeks, now masters of the world, felt no need for change.
In the Messenian town of Andania mysteries were celebrated in honour of the goddesses Demeter and Kore. A long inscription of 92 bc gives elaborate directions for the conduct of the rites, although, naturally, it gives no details of what went on during initiation. The mysteries in honour of the Cabeiri gods of fertility on the island of Samothrace attracted great attention in this period.
These gods were thought to be helpers of the seafarers, and initiation into their mysteries was looked upon as a general safeguard against all misfortune but particularly against shipwreck. The Dionysiac Mysteries, with their revels and merriment, continued throughout the whole of Greek history. Together with most of the elements of Greek civilization, this cult was transferred to Italy.
In bc a scandal about the Bacchanalia —the Latin name for the Hellenistic Dionysiac Mysteries—so upset the Romans that a decree of the Senate prohibited them throughout Italy, except in certain special cases. These mysteries were celebrated in a lower middle class milieu and involved gross sex parties and violence conducted under the cover of mystery secrecy.
The important developments in the mystery rites during the Hellenistic period took place in the Greek Orient, where elements from the Greek and Oriental religions were blended. Contact with Greek civilization completely changed life in the Orient, where the knowledge of writing had been confined to a few priests and scribes. Society first disintegrated after the conquest of Alexander and then developed along new lines.
Changes in religion were inevitable, and some influence of Oriental traditions upon the Greeks was bound to follow. But the process was a slow one and became manifest only a few centuries later.
With regard to the institution of kingship, however, syncretism worked quickly. Ancient Near Eastern kingship was originally sacral. The Syrian and Egyptian inhabitants of the newly created Greek kingdoms inevitably regarded the Greco-Macedonian kings as semidivine beings. The Greeks themselves soon submitted to this mixture of politics and religion.
This knowledge would be communicated in clandestine ceremonies often connected to an initiation rite. The focus of this knowledge was not on a set of revealed truths to be shared with the world, but on hidden higher knowledge to be kept within the circle of believers. At the core of each religion was a myth in which the deity returned to life after death, or else triumphed over his enemies. The goal of the believers was a mystical experience that led them to believe that they had achieved union with their god.
The various religious movements found throughout the Roman Empire were not united in doctrine or practice, and they changed dramatically over time. Any impact that they may have had on Christianity must be evaluated by the time frame in which the religions encountered one another.
When comparing religious systems, Philosopher Ronald Nash warns that caution is advised against using careless language. This fallacy occurs when someone argues that just because two things exist side by side, that one must be the cause of the other.
The mere fact that other religions may have had a god who died and then came back to life in some manner does not mean that this was the source of Christian ideas, even if it can be shown that the apostles knew of this other set of beliefs.
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Some scholars, hostile to Christianity, tend to exaggerate, or invent, similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions. British scholar Edwyn Bevan writes: Of course if one writes an imaginary description of the Orphic mysteries.
On this plan, you first put in the Christian elements, and then are staggered to find them there. This initiation rite, in which the blood of a sacrificed bull is allowed to pour over a neophyte, is claimed by some to be the source of baptism in Christianity.
In fact, a better argument can be made that the cult borrowed its language from the Christian tradition. The cult of Cybele did not use the taurobolium until the second century A.
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After noting the change in meaning that the taurobolium experienced over time, scholar Robert Duthoy writes: It is obvious that this alteration in the taurobolium must have been due to Christianity, when we consider that by A. He had studied under Gamaliel, the most celebrated teacher of the most orthodox of the Jewish parties, the Pharisees.
And in Colossians he warns against the very syncretism he is being accused of proposing. According to Bruce Metzger: The very nature of the mystery cults, with the conflicting pantheon of deities and mythical beings, makes it highly unlikely that the strict monotheism and the body of doctrines found in the New Testament would be their source.
Although the mystery religions did move towards advancing a solar god above all the others, this change began after A. During the first couple of centuries, Gnostism and the various Gnostic cults that sprung up were the first major heresies Christianity had to deal with. You will in fact find that much of the teaching of the early Christian apostles was specifically directed against Gnostisms. For example, the shorter letters written by the Apostle John were directed squarely against a prevalent Gnostic teaching that Jesus did not actually have a physical body but was just a vision, something like a hologram projected into this physical world.
Contrary to modern perceptions, the first obstacle that Christianity had to overcome was not convincing people that Jesus was God but convincing people that God actually took on flesh and became a man. The mystic religions of the time said that this was shameful, that a pure holy God would never defile himself by becoming fleshly. John explained the Christian doctrine to the contrary starting his letter with these words: His body was real.