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Mithras and Jesus

Rock-born Mithras and Mithraic artifacts (Baths of Diocletian, Rome)/Cristian ChiritaI, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license

Mithraism, also known as the Mithraic mysteries, was a Roman mystery religion centered on the god Mithras. Although inspired by Iranian worship of the Zoroastrian divinity (yazata) Mithra, the Greek Mithras is linked to a new and distinctive imagery, with the level of continuity between Persian and Greco-Roman practice debated.[a] The mysteries were popular among the Imperial Roman army from about the 1st to the 4th century CE.[2]

Mithras killing the bull (c. 150 CE; Louvre-Lens)

Mithraism, also known as the Mithraic mysteries, was a Roman mystery religion centered on the god Mithras. Although inspired by Iranian worship of the Zoroastrian divinity (yazata) Mithra, the Greek Mithras is linked to a new and distinctive imagery, with the level of continuity between Persian and Greco-Roman practice debated.[a] The mysteries were popular among the Imperial Roman army from about the 1st to the 4th century CE.[2]

Worshippers of Mithras had a complex system of seven grades of initiation and communal ritual meals. Initiates called themselves syndexioi, those “united by the handshake”.[3] They met in underground temples, now called mithraea (singular mithraeum), which survive in large numbers. The cult appears to have had its centre in Rome,[4] and was popular throughout the western half of the empire, as far south as Roman Africa and Numidia, as far north as Roman Britain,[5](pp 26–27) and to a lesser extent in Roman Syria in the east.[4]

Mithraism is viewed as a rival of early Christianity.[6] In the 4th century, Mithraists faced persecution from Christians and the religion was subsequently suppressed and eliminated in the empire by the end of the century.[7]

“Mithras is the god of light, the new light which bursts forth each morning from the vault of heaven behind the mountains and whose birthday is celebrated on 25 December,” wrote Manfred Clauss, a history professor at Goethe University Frankfurt, in his book “The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries” (Routledge, 2001).

Bas-relief of Mithras looking to Sol Invictus as he slays the bull. Inscription top line: Soli Invicto Deo.

Miraculous birth

Maithras was born from a rock. David Ulansey speculates that this was a belief derived from the Perseus myths, which held he was born from a cavern.

25th of December

It is often stated (e.g. by Encyclopaedia Britannica,[21][22] the Catholic Encyclopedia,[23] et al.[24][25]) that Mithras was born on December 25. Roger Beck argued in a 1987 article that this is unproven. He writes: “The only evidence for it is the celebration of the birthday of Invictus on that date in Calendar of Philocalus. Invictus is of course Sol Invictus, Aurelian’s sun god. It does not follow that a different, earlier, and unofficial sun god, Sol Invictus Mithras, was necessarily or even probably, born on that day too.”[26] (Note that Sol Invictus played a prominent role in the Mithraic mysteries, and was equated with Mithras.[27][28][29])

Unusually amongst Roman mystery cults, the mysteries of Mithras had no ‘public’ face; worship of Mithras was confined to initiates, and they could only undertake such worship in the secrecy of the Mithraeum.[30] Clauss states: “the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable (Sun)], held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras.”.[31]

Steven Hijmans has discussed in detail whether the general natalis Invicti festival was related to Christmas but does not give Mithras as a possible source.[32]

However, in the original homeland of Mithra, one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions still celebrates his birthday. The present-day Iran Chamber Society’s Ramona Shashaani shares traditional ‘Persian’ (i.e. ‘Parsee’ = Zoroastrian) culture and history:[33]

While Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th, the Persians are getting ready to tribute one of their most festive celebrations on Dec. 21st, the eve of winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. In Iran this night is called SHAB-E YALDAA, also known as SHAB-E CHELLEH, which refers to the birthday or rebirth of the sun.
… YALDAA is chiefly related to MEHR YAZAT; it is the night of the birth of the unconquerable sun, Mehr or Mithra, meaning love and sun, and has been celebrated by the followers of Mithraism as early as 5000 B.C.
… But in the [Roman-controlled area’s] 4th century A.D., because of some errors in counting the leap year, the birthday of Mithra shifted to 25th of December and was established as such.

An 1,800-year-old temple in northern England that is dedicated to the god Mithras was built to align with the rising sun on Dec. 25, a physics professor has found.

The temple is located beside a Roman fort in Carrawburgh, near Hadrian’s Wall, which served as the most northerly frontier to the Roman Empire, beginning around A.D. 122.

Some modern-day scholars believe that the Romans celebrated Mithras’ birthday on Dec. 25 — the same day eventually chosen by Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ. (Scholars don’t really think Jesus was born on that day.)

This 1,800-year-old temple was dedicated to the god Mithras. (Image credit: De Agostini/S. Vannini/REX/Shutterstock)

Winter solstice

There is also an alignment between the Mithras temple and the rising sun on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, Sparavigna said. The winter solstice occurs on Dec. 21 during 2017.

A physics professor has found that this 1,800-year-old Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithras is aligned so that it faces the direction of sunrise on Dec. 25. (Image credit: Amelia Carolina Sparavigna)

Roger Beck, an emeritus professor of Classics at the University of Toronto, who has written extensively on the cult of Mithras, said that he hypothesized that such an alignment existed in a paper published in 1984 in the journal Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen. In that 1984 paper, he speculated that the rays of the sun might have illuminated a statue and altar within the Mithras temple on the winter solstice. After reviewing Sparavigna’s research article, Beck commented that “the main point about alignment to the winter solstice I think stands, though not to the level of detail that I then proposed,” regarding the statue and altar.

In his 1984 paper, Beck did not propose that the reason for such an alignment was to celebrate the birthday of the god Mithras on Dec. 25, and he’s skeptical that the Romans celebrated the god’s birth on that day. By from article: ” Roman Temple of Mithras May Align with Sun on ‘Jesus’ Birthday”

Was the story of Jesus Christ recycled from pagan religions?

It’s an accusation that’s been around a long time. Even in ancient times, critics of Christianity noticed some parallels between Christian beliefs and pre-Christian myths. To be sure, there are some surface-level similarities

Mithraism and Christianity

Early Christian apologists noted similarities between Mithraic and Christian rituals, but nonetheless took an extremely negative view of Mithraism: they interpreted Mithraic rituals as evil copies of Christian ones.[184][185] For instance, Tertullian wrote that as a prelude to the Mithraic initiation ceremony, the initiate was given a ritual bath and at the end of the ceremony, received a mark on the forehead. He described these rites as a diabolical counterfeit of the baptism and chrismation of Christians.[186] Justin Martyr contrasted Mithraic initiation communion with the Eucharist:[187]

Wherefore also the evil demons in mimicry have handed down that the same thing should be done in the Mysteries of Mithras. For that bread and a cup of water are in these mysteries set before the initiate with certain speeches you either know or can learn.[188]

Ernest Renan suggested in 1882 that, under different circumstances, Mithraism might have risen to the prominence of modern-day Christianity. Renan wrote: “If the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic”.[189][190] However, this theory has since been contested. Leonard Boyle wrote in 1987 that “too much … has been made of the ‘threat’ of Mithraism to Christianity”,[191] pointing out that there are only fifty known mithraea in the entire city of Rome. J. Alvar Ezquerra holds that since the two religions did not share similar aims; there was never any real threat of Mithraism taking over the Roman world.[192] Mithraism had backing from the Roman aristocracy during a time when their conservative values were seen as under attack during the rising tides of Christianity.[193]

According to Mary Boyce, Mithraism was a potent enemy for Christianity in the West, though she is sceptical about its hold in the East.[194][195][196] Filippo Coarelli (1979) has tabulated forty actual or possible Mithraea and estimated that Rome would have had “not less than 680–690” mithraea.[9] Lewis M. Hopfe states that more than 400 Mithraic sites have been found. These sites are spread all over the Roman empire from places as far as Dura Europos in the east, and England in the west. He, too, says that Mithraism may have been a rival of Christianity.[6] David Ulansey thinks Renan’s statement “somewhat exaggerated”,[197] but does consider Mithraism “one of Christianity’s major competitors in the Roman Empire”.[197] Ulansey sees the study of Mithraism as important for understanding “the cultural matrix out of which the Christian religion came to birth”.[197] Source: wikipedia