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Old 02-28-2001, 02:30 PM   #1
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Question Christianity and the Mystery Cults

I have read Hyam Maccoby's books, Revolution in Judea and The Mythmaker and enjoyed both of them. I have also read A. N. Wilson's biography of Paul also a good read.

What is the standard Christian response to the arguments that Christianity is nothing more than a rehashing of many of the mystery cults such as Mithraism and other things. I have posted on other boards (fairly new to this one) and the only response I seem to get from Christians is that such work has been dismissed by more modern scholarship, but short on specifics as to why.

OK, xtians here's your chance. Tell us heathens why Christianity is not a rehash of the mystery cults.

TIA

SLD

 
Old 02-28-2001, 02:35 PM   #2
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You are the one furthering the proposition rejected by most contemporary New Testament scholars (who you might try reading sometime). Make your case. Demonstrate to us that the pagan mystery religions spawned a new Jewish sect.
 
Old 02-28-2001, 03:30 PM   #3
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">SLD
What is the standard Christian response to the arguments that Christianity is nothing more than a rehashing of many of the mystery cults such as Mithraism and other things.</font>
If you will allow me to use a fairly standard non-theist reply, you have made the assertion, so prove it to me because I don't believe it.

Seriously though, present some more specific cases and we'll look at them...

I believe some of the more trivial elements in Christianity could possibly be a reflection of its contemporary surroundings.

For instance, December 25th would more than likely have not been the true birthdate of Jesus. This was more than likely adopted to "override" a pagan religion (Mithraism, I believe). Personally, I wish this had not been done, but it was. It is irrelevant to my belief in Jesus as the Savior of man.

Ish
 
Old 02-28-2001, 05:05 PM   #4
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This has been much argued about, and one thing that makes it difficult to assess this question is exactly what went on in many of those mystery cults, since their internal secrets often died with them.

However, there are some broad similarities, such as to the abundance of dying and resurrected pagan deities and heroes.
 
Old 02-28-2001, 10:08 PM   #5
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Modern scholarship seems to be divided up into those that think the Bible is right, those that think the historical Jesus was attributed with more than he did, and those that think Jesus was a myth. The second group is the most popular in the historical Jesus debate. The issues you bring up are discussed mostly by the third. By the way, you would like Earl Doherty's "Jesus Puzzle". Check out his website http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus.html.

What makes the debate confusing is that there is plenty of mystery religion kind of stuff found in Paul but not really at all in the Gospels. To explain both you need to consider more than just mystery religions. I think Earl Doherty does this well.

Most scholars who fit in the second category focus on the parts of Luke and Matthew that are common but not in Mark (Q) and try to discover what might be attributable to the 'real' Jesus with our knowledge about the social, economic, political, and religious situation of the time. The assumption though is that Jesus did exist and then everyone argues about how much he actually did and said.

I think Earl Doherty argues well that the stuff found in Q comes from a community that did not orginally attribute the sayings and parables to Jesus. He suggests that Christianity started as a Jewish adaptation of Greek mystery religions and the varieties that appeared are represented for instance by Paul in his letters and perhaps in Hebrews as well. When the author of Mark later wrote his or her gospel, they took the mythical figure of Jesus and gave him a story, finding inspiration from the Old Testament, the Homeric Epics, and perhaps from the 'Q community' as well (though Doherty hasn't brought Homer up yet). The authors of Luke and Matthew however, read Mark but were unsatisfied and changed it to their means, adding all the 'wisdom' of the 'Q community' as well as some other stories developed in the variety of 'Christian' groups. Later, Acts was written to turn Paul into an apostle of the 'historical' Jesus.

I also don't know if there are strong refutations of this view. Most just say, well, the Greek mystery religions were different. Well, of course. When people develop new religious ideas, they take the best of some and the best of others and this leads to something different. The process doesn't even have to be concious or deliberate. When you hear a good idea, you 'know' it must apply to your God.

 
Old 03-01-2001, 10:16 AM   #6
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Ish:
If you will allow me to use a fairly standard non-theist reply, you have made the assertion, so prove it to me because I don't believe it.

Seriously though, present some more specific cases and we'll look at them...

I believe some of the more trivial elements in Christianity could possibly be a reflection of its contemporary surroundings.

For instance, December 25th would more than likely have not been the true birthdate of Jesus. This was more than likely adopted to "override" a pagan religion (Mithraism, I believe). Personally, I wish this had not been done, but it was. It is irrelevant to my belief in Jesus as the Savior of man.

Ish
</font>
Respectfully, Ish, I'm not concerned with whether you believe it or not, nor am I particularly interested in debating the point with you. I'm not interested in what you personally have to say on the issue as I am sure it disagrees with these viewpoints. What I am interested in is what Christian scholars and other scholars (who admittedly know far more than me) have to say about the arguments that are in the literature.

That being said, I would suggest you study the issue rather than simply believing it or disbelieving it. So many Christians accept what they are told about Christianity from their ministers and other believers and I think honestly never make an attempt to examine the evidence for or against it. I would suggest reading A. N. Wilson's two books, one on Jesus and the other on Paul. You can find them at any B&N or at Amazon.com. You can also find Maccobby's "The Mythmaker" at B&N as I think he recently updated to a second edition. Maccobby's "Revolution in Judea" is harder to come by but is quite interesting as well. There are also other books that I haven't read, but you may want to check out this web site that lists quite a few of them:

http://home.earthlink.net/~pgwhacker/ChristianOrigins/


That web site also presents some of the basic arguments about the similarities between Christianity and the Mystery Cults.

Happy Reading!!

SLD

"Some people would rather believe than know" - Christian DeDuve, Vital Dust
 
Old 03-01-2001, 10:54 AM   #7
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Hello SLD

I think you misunderstood Ish's point, which, if I may hazard a guess, is asking you to outline what you believe to be the best examples of Christian copying of the Mystery Cults.

The website you offered, for example, is especially aweful in its research and theories. Just to give you a very quick example of how badly they do there, they quote from The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Grady, and worst of all show the picture of the crucified Bacchus. Sadly,what they fail to mention (just as do Freke and Grady, go figure) is that the medallion they are showing is known to date from the late 2nd early 3rd Century AD, making it extremely likely that the image is being copied from Christianity (either to mimick or to mock the crucifixion of Jesus), and not the other way around.

The second problem with the site you have offered is that it contains absolutely zero primary source evidence of ANY of the major Christian traditions (i.e. the Eucharist, baptism, the virgin birth narratives, crucifixion, ect.), being borrowed from the Mystery cults. The only possible exception is that of dying and rising gods, but even here the evidence is far from convincing.

So all we really have here is the fertile imagination of 20th Century authors trying to dig up something that they think is cool linking Christians and Mythris/Isis/Osiris/whoever. Like popcorn, it is satisfying, but not very filling.

And since we have just gone through a very long and not very enlightening discussion on how the Gospels stole their ideas from Homer (and yes this idea is totally new, and no, it doesn't have any meat on its bones), it is probably better is you actually present your case that Paul and the Gospels borrowed from the Mystery Cults.

Basically, what we are looking for is for you to give us some real evidence to look at, and stop with the assertions, or the discussion will be very short SLD.

Nomad

[This message has been edited by Nomad (edited March 01, 2001).]
 
Old 03-01-2001, 11:16 AM   #8
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Just quickly wanted to add to the list of howlers coming off that website you gave us SLD:

From http://home.earthlink.net/~pgwhacker/ChristianOrigins/ we have a graphically horrific scene at the Great Library of Alxandria written up by Gibbons in his 19th Century "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Of course, what isn't mentioned on the site is the Gibbons got his details so completely wrong that the Great Library of Alexandria didn't even exist to be burned down (as Gibbons asserts) at the time this event was said to take place (415AD). So when the site wants to assert that nasty old Christians burned all those pagan documents, well, what evidence do we have to support the claim?

None.

And that is the problem with all of this pop-scholarship. What is astonishing is that crap like this continues to be trotted out, long after it has been debunked. For anyone interested in this particular story, I would recommend Bede's:

The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria.

It is well worth the read, and helps to teach us how anti-Christian propagandists will go to almost any lengths to beat up Christianity. Now, if only they could keep their facts straight (or even get them right)...

Nomad

 
Old 03-01-2001, 12:07 PM   #9
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I think that "miraculous conception" is a better term to use than "virgin birth", because it is more difficult to attack on crudely literalistic grounds. Thus, divine impregnations would not be disqualified as comparisons because that god had had sex with that woman.

However, some pagan miraculous conceptions do appear to nonsexual, such as Zeus turning himself into some gold dust and pouring himself onto Danae's lap, or Mithras being born from a rock.
 
Old 03-01-2001, 12:24 PM   #10
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Thanks Nomad. You are correct about what I am asking SLD. I just want some specifics. IMO, it is impossible to address such a generalized question in any reasonable manner.

SLD, sorry for the little "poke" at the beginning of my post. It was just in fun, but I'm beginning to understand how difficult it is to get jokes across in "cyberland"...

SLD, look around the posts here a little bit and I think you'll find that I have done my homework in a few areas.

Ipetrich, I wish I could find the website I saw the other day. It was an atheist's site mentioning the "virgin birth" of Mithras. I think this is an unfair representation and I'm glad you see it as well.

Mithras, from what I've read, really sort of "morphed" out of a rock in the form of a young boy, then an old man, and finally a strong young man (or something like that - might check me on that though). The comparison to Jesus' birth is a bad one to say the least.

Ish
 
 

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