I've recently finished a book entitled: The Jesus Mysteries--Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God?, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. This is my review / summary / tribute to what I've just read.
The main thesis of the book is "Where did the Jesus story originate?" They give a lot of information, but I've narrowed it down to 7 main parts:
1. Osiris of EgyptThe primal myth of the Mystery godman reaches back to prehistory. The Passion story of Osiris can be found in pyramid texts written over 4,500 years ago. This is the story of a mortal man who performs spectacular feats, dies, resurrects, and in doing so paves the way for the rest of us.2. Egypt -> Greece2.1. Around the year 670 B.C.E., Egypt opened its borders (sort of like Tibet recently did). One of the first Greeks to travel there was Pythagoras, who spent 22 years in the temples of Egypt in search of ancient wisdom. He became an initiate of the Egyptian Mysteries--a mysterious cult that valued mathematics and geometry. Upon return to Greece, he began to preach the wisdom he had learned, he gained followers (his own cult--modeled after the Egyptian one), and he was known to perform his own miracles (raising the dead, giving oracles that tell the future, curing the sick, calming the storms the sea, etc.)3. Greece -> Mediterranean
2.2. A brief stint on the Mysteries2.2.1. A key topic of the mysteries is to produce something new--to prove to yourself that you've learned the Inner Mysteries well enough to teach them fresh from the start--patterned to your own liking. Know Thyself!2.3. Back to Greece
2.2.2. The Mysteries contain two parts; two levels. There is an Outer Mystery taught to the dumb. When they are spiritually and intellectually ready, they are initiated to the Inner Mysteries. The reason behind this is profound: it's the best way to teach Everyone. If you teach in boring, detailed prose, the dumb among us won't care. They'll find it boring. They might not be capable of "getting it." And the smart might find it too dumbed down. They will get lazy. They will not strive to push themselves to the next limit (and create something new). You want to motivate both types of people. How? Simple: You encode hidden meanings in simple stories. That way, it will be easy and fun to learn and remember. Once the details are stored in memory, it'll be easier to show the tantalizing truths to the dumb. This also pushes the smart to probe deeper. They will never know if they've gotten all they can out of it. Shit, they may produce even profounder truths with their probing! The best of both worlds unfold in a 2-level system. Teach the myth to the dumb, the eternal truths to the smart. Both learn, both grow.
2.2.3. The dumb are dumb--that's tautological. They are not going to accept "new myths from a foreign country." They like their myths; nothing else. Thus, to spread your Inner Mysteries, you must dress them up according to local history. In the case of Greece, the Pythagoreans chose the minor Greek deity Dionysus.
Prior to 670 B.C.E. Dionysus was an unknown god. He is barely mentioned in the poems of Homer. However, in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C.E., an explosion of stories are written about Him. He became the god of the exceptional--people who followed him were expected to go out and do their own thing. Originally a "wine god," he soon grew to be the god of excess and drunken orgies (quite a change on the outside--and inside). There's a story of Him turning water into wine at a wedding. But most importantly, in the Homeric Olympian religion there was a strict boundary between the gods who were immortal and men who were doomed to die. Dionysus broke through this religious taboo--a god who became man, he died and crossed the Olympian boundary to become a god. And if he can do it ... I'm jumping ahead of myself..
2.4. Greek Tragedy & the Theater2.4.1. The development of theater from the cult of Dionysus is a well known fact, but how this happened is little understood and insecurely researched.2.5 more on the Mysteries
2.4.2. The Greek play was not like the plays of today. In the Greek play, one does not passively sit by and watch the characters dance by. In traditional Greek plays, each member of the audience lives the roles of the characters and is expected to _feel_ something throughout. Individualism was always key.
2.4.3. In the Greek Mysteries at Eleusis, it is thought that people were initiated to the Inner Parts by watching a Greek play about the death and resurrection of the godman Dionysus.
2.4.4. The deep, hidden meaning of the play (death and resurrection) is that it could happen to you, too. That is: the Kingdom of God is inside you. The release of emotion you experience at the play marks a spiritual rebirth. Initiates soon found everything in their lives different after leaving the play and learning the hidden meanings to all the myths they've been told up until this point.
2.4.5. Supernaturalism wasn't key. The spiritual rebirth was more like the Enlightenment of Buddha. Initiates who learned the Inner Truths (Gnosis) learned more about themselves and better learned how to cope with life on Earth. To die to one's own lower self and resurrect as the Christ within was the spiritual goal.
2.4.6. The hidden meanings taught to the Initiates were probably the highest, most purest religion of all time: the eternal truths of mathematics. In math something is true forever and ever. Where else can we find that kind of certainty? Where else is knowledge _proved_? If you're familiar with Plato, his highest form / highest ideal was mathematics. And Plato's God was the ineffable Mystery god of the unknown.
2.4.7. The stories of Dionysus (and other godmen) drew out geometric shapes. The elements of the stories provided the numbers to be used. One example from the Jesus Mysteries is the story of 153 fish: In John 21:11 Jesus helps his disciples catch 153 fish. This is a sacred number in Pythagorean geometry. It is used in a ratio that Archimedes called "the measure of the fish" in the third century B.C.E. The exact same story of Pythagoras helping his followers catch fish was told in antiquity. Stories like this encoded sacred mathematical formulae.2.5.1. Initiates to the Inner Mysteries know that like Osiris-Dionysus, they, too, were also "God made flesh." Everyone could share in this eternal knowledge if they were ready for it.
2.5.2. The idea that "all is one" is a central Mystery Religion concept. All can learn, all can be initiated, all are one. Everything is reducible to simple concepts. The Pythagoreans are known for the saying: "Music is mathematics, sounded." If music could be reduced to math, what else in nature could? Everything! All is one. Springing from this teaching, we get the idea that all men are equal. All women are allowed to be initiated. All teachings of the different godmen were the same story. Thus, the Mystery religions were the perfect religion of tolerance. And this came at a crucial time...
2.5.3. The Mystery religions were ideally suited to the conditions following Alexander's conquests. When Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world, previously discrete cultures were suddenly thrown together.
2.5.4. The Mysteries believed in One God (all is reducible to the One--the creator--the ineffable being). They believed in One God with many faces--much like modern Hinduism and the concept of the Trinity in Orthodox Christianity. To the Pythagoreans, God could be represented in geometry as the perfect circle--with the mystery of Pi at its core. I suspect this, too, comes from ancient Egyptian worship of the circular-shaped "sun-disk" worship of Anknaton. But does the book go that far into it? NOOOOooooo.... ;)3.1. After the explosion of the Dionysus cult, we soon find similar myths throughout the Mediterranean. Dionysus' other Greek names include: Iacchos, Bassareus, Bromios, Euios, Sabazius, Zagreus, Yhyoneus, Lanaios, Eleuthereus, and so on... In other cultures the Osiris-Dionysus story was found in new, local deities--following the pattern set by Dionysus. The godman became known as Mithras (Persia), Attis (Asia Minor), Adonis (Syria), Bacchus (Italy), Jesus (Israel).4. the Mysteries of Moses
3.2. In Alexandria, for example, a charismatic sage called Timotheus consciously fused Osiris and Dionysus to produce a new deity for the city called Serapis. Coins were minted with Dionysus represented on one side and Mithras on the other.
3.3. the godman storyThe godmen shared the following central themes:
3.3.1. he was the Son of God -- God made flesh
3.3.2. he was born of a virgin (usually in a cave--which is anciently symbolical as the "womb" of Mother Earth)
3.3.3. he was born on the winter solstice (around December 25th--or January 6th) ... This was a new one on me: did you know that the solstice changes over periods of thousands of years? For Osiris (ancient Egypt guy) it was January 6th, apparently at some time it was "corrected" to be December 25th, but today, our solstice is closest to December 21st. :)
3.3.4. the godman offers his followers the chance to be "born again" through the rights of elemental baptism (of water, air, earth, and fire).
3.3.5. the godman cures the sick, exorcizes demons, and raises the dead. These stories were apparently very common back then: Asclepius (follower of Hippocrates) did it, Pythagoras did it, Epedocles (follower of Pythagoras) did it, Apollonius of Tyana did it, etc.
3.3.6. the godman has 12 disciples (which the christians claim is symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel (which is in turn symbolic of the 12 signs of the Babylonian zodiac)). The idea of a central figure surrounded by 12 others figures is also a sacred geometric truth (if you have 1 sphere surrounded by as many spheres of equal size as possible--all the spheres will touch all the others, and you will have 12 of them total with 1 in the middle).
3.3.7. the godman is the Just man who dies at the hand of a Tyrant << The concept of the Just Man is given also in the Republic by Plato--a self-proclaimed initiate into the Mysteries. I wonder how much the stories of Socrates by Plato reflect these mystic teachings. << Plato is also known for teaching distinctly Mystery Religion-like values, such as "the equality of women," the playful use of allegories to teach hidden points, the ineffable One God, and even the idea that we should lie to the masses with our mythology (in the Republic).
3.3.8. the godman must die and come back -- showing us all that if he can do it (if he can gain the inner knowledge), then so can we.4.1. When Alexander conquered Egypt at the end of the fourth century B.C.E., he founded the city of Alexandria (famous for it's Great Library). The part I wasn't aware of is that about ½ of the population of Alexandria was Jewish. These Jews were surrounded by Pagan culture. It crept into their religion and their beliefs. Greek became the language of the common man and common Jew. Jewish ceremonies were even given in Greek instead of the traditional Hebrew. Here in Alexandria--apart from the fundamentalists in Jerusalem and what is now known as Israel--a large group of Jews became Hellenized. Inter-testimonal books of the Bible were created here, in Greek, and included in the first Greek version of the Bible (known as the Septuagint). The Jewish story of Moses was written as a Greek tragedy in the language and style of Euripides. It seems inevitable that soon the Greek story of Dionysus would be written into Jewish literature.5. Something went wrong
4.2. But the Jews were somewhat different from the polytheistic religions that Osiris-Dionysus had assimilated into. There was a problem. There was no "lesser deity" to wrap the story around. Perhaps angel-godmen were tried, and apparently the stories of Enoch were given many Dionysian elements ...but the Universal Savior for Judaism could best be interwoven with the Jewish stories of the Tanak (Old Testament) by focusing in on the promised Messiah figure. That way the Outer Mysteries would still be compatible with even the most traditional Jews.
4.3. Apparently with all this "new philosophy" and literature that was coming out of Alexandria, the Jews back home were getting upset. To avoid accusations from fellow Jews that they were abandoning their own traditions, Hellenized Jews began to claim that Pagan philosophy was originally Jewish! They asserted that Pythagoras and Plato stole their ideas from Moses. Although absurd, such ideas made it easier for Jews to retain their national dignity while at the same time adopting the philosophy of their Pagan neighbors (and participating in cosmopolitan society).
4.4. This also [finally] makes sense why the original Gospel of Mark was found to be written in Alexandria.Why did the Jewish Mystery godman become accepted as genuine? Two points to keep in mind:6. The Religion of Rome
5.1. The Jewish Messiah wasn't like the other godmen (he wasn't a lesser deity). The Jews expected their Messiah to be a historical figure that would walk the earth any day now. Historicity was thus required--making this particular godman exceptionally unique.
5.2. After 70 C.E., when the Romans laid waste to Jerusalem, Jews were spread throughout the Roman Empire as slaves and refugees. Jews initiated into the Outer Mysteries would've been walking about with no link to the masters of the Inner Mysteries. With no one to guide them, the Outer Mysteries were allowed to develop and gain their own following.
5.3. When the mystics of the Inner Mysteries finally caught up with them and came to correct them, their message (that everything you guys have been doing for years is not enough (or partially wrong)) was not happily accepted.
5.4. The Jews of the Outer Mysteries became the Literalist Christians (which eventually became Orthodox Christians), and the Jews of the Inner Mysteries were called Gnostic Christians.
5.5. The Gnostics taught individuality and questioning authority. The Literalists taught conformity to society and to the state. Instead of arguing for their faith, Literalists held out that blind faith was superior to reason [perhaps because they couldn't win arguments with Pagan sages or Gnostic masters?]. Tertullian became famous for his view that he believes "because its absurd."
5.6. With Reason out the way, the structure of the Literalist organization became prone to allowing con men into leadership positions.6.1. The Romans saw the Mystery Religions (like the Jesus Mysteries) as a threat to their establishment. From as early as 186 B.C.E. the Mysteries of Dionysus had been prohibited in Rome and their shrines destroyed throughout Italy. Huge numbers of initiates were executed sometimes many thousands at a time.7. Persecutions
6.2. Yet different Roman rulers viewed the Mysteries differently. In 304 (just 17 years before Christianity became the state religion), another godman who was miraculously born on December 25 and whose devotees also celebrated a symbolic meal of bread and wine was declared the "Protector of the Empire"--the Persian savior Mithras. The Persians were the main rivals and ancient enemies of the Romans, so the Roman's adoption of Mithras is actually even more shocking than their adoption of the Jewish Mystery Religion.
6.3. Other Roman leaders had flirted to different degrees with different Mystery religions. There was Marc Antony (with Dionysus), Claudius (with Attis), Vespasian (with Serapis), Domitian (with Oriris), Elgabalus (with monotheistic cult of Helios). None of those seemed to be popular enough among the people and controlling enough to help the state. The religion that would work out perfectly for Rome was the religion that had the appearance of a Mystery Religion, but with no intellectuals running it. Literalist Christianity was a perfect fit.
6.4. Constantine6.4.1. Constantine claimed he saw the "sign of the cross" in a vision, inscribed with the words "By this conquer." It was not the familiar Christian cross, however, but the Pagan "chi-rho" symbol (thus giving a double meaning that would appeal to Pagans and Christians alike). Constantine then had a dream in which Christ came to him, bearing the same symbol, and commanded him to "use its likeness in his engagements with the enemy." Constantine emblazoned the emblem on his troops' shields, won the battle as promised, and became a Christian. If he is to be believed, it would seem that Jesus, the "Prince of Peace," won over the most terrible Empire of the ancient world by offering its Emperor a magical military talisman!6.5. The Coptic Church made Pontius Pilate a Saint and gave him his own feast day (June 25th). His wife Procla was also revered as a saint in the Eastern Church. As absurd as this may sound, it passed as history to some back then. People were not careful scholars and skeptics as [some are] today.
6.4.2. Knowing nothing of theology, but knowing that he needed unity, Constantine enforced the Nicaean Creed created by his underlings. Bishops who refused to agree with it were exiled as criminals.
6.4.3. The Gnostics regularly and unashamedly created fantasy gospels. But they acknowledged that they were mythologizing. The Literalists of Constantine (like Eusebius) distorted everything Gnostic, including even that! Eusebius' history was preached as valid fact (and as literally true). This is when Paul's Pastoral Letters were faked (the letters which denounce Gnosticism and Reason, and tell slaves to submit to their masters). Translating works into Latin afforded opportunities for distortion. The lives of Christian saints were constructed out of the legends of dead Pagan holy men. The accounts of early Christian persecutions were exaggerated.
6.6. Bishop Eusebius is known as the "father of Church history," since only his account of early Christianity survived antquity. He subsequently became Constantine's personal biographer, downplaying Constantine's atrocities. Eusebius openly states that "lying for the good of the cause" is a virtue (as expressed by Plato in the Republic, and as a distortion of the Mystery Religions). Eusebius (like others before him) also maintained that the similarities between the Christ myth and the many different Pagan godmen myths are the work of the Devil. They maintained that the Devil (through "diabolical mimicry") had created those stories before the coming of Christ in order to lead the gullible astray!7.1. Paganism was not attacked for mistakenly worshipping non-existent gods. Nor was it ever disputed that the gods could indeed perform miracles such as healing the sick and predicting the future. Rather, Pagan gods were deemed to be devils who worked their magic to deceive and mislead the gullible.8. Concluding Thoughts
7.2. On June 16, 391 Emperor Theodosis issued an edict that closed down all Pagan temples. Constantine made Christianity of equal status as the Pagan religions. Theodosius declared it to be the only religion permitted to be practiced. Theodosius passed over 100 laws against Gnostics, declaring illegal their beliefs, meetings, proselytizing, ownership of property, and eventually their very existence...
This book (The Jesus Mysteries) re-explains early Church history. The logic employed by the authors connects natural events together to explain the rise of Christianity (in contradistinction with the supernatural events linked and proclaimed by tradition). I see this book as a devastating blow to Christianity. The authors of it, however, claim they are strengthening Christianity by showing people there's more to it than just the Outer Mysteries. Both opinions, I feel, are irrelevant. I urge everyone everywhere to read through the book and form their own opinion.
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