Copyright © By Dr. Adel Elsaie, Book Title: "Please Revise the Bible, Again"

2.6 Persian Trinity

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Many events in the story of Jesus' life and birth are either coincidental or borrowings from earlier and contemporary pagan religions. The most obviously similarrity of these is Mithraism. Most of the information available about this ancient religion, the favorite of Roman soldiers, comes to us from the two volumes by Belgian scholar Franz Cumont. More recently, David Ulansey has added to the discussion with his “The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries”. Roman Mithraism was a mystery religion with sacrifice and initiation. Like other mystery cults, there's little recorded literary evidence. What we know comes mainly from Christian detractors and archaeological evidence from Mithraic temples, inscriptions, and artistic representations of the god and other aspects of the cult.

 

            For over three hundred years the rulers of the Roman Empire worshipped the god Mithras. Known throughout Europe and Asia by the names Mithra, Mitra, Meitros, Mihr, Mehr, and Meher, the veneration of this god began around 2600 years ago in Persia, where it was soon imbedded with Babylonian doctrines. The faith spread east through India to China, and reached west throughout the entire length of the Roman frontier; from Scotland to the Sahara Desert, and from Spain to the Black Sea. Sites of Mithraic worship have been found in Britain, Italy, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey, Persia, Armenia, Syria, Palestine, and North Africa. In Rome, more than a hundred inscriptions dedicated to Mithras have been found, in addition to 75 sculpture fragments, and a series of Mithraic temples situated in all parts of the city. An inscription to Mithras which parallels John 6:53-54 says” He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made on with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation." One of the largest Mithraic temples built in Italy now lies under the present site of the Church of St. Clement, near the Colosseum in Rome. The widespread popularity and appeal of Mithraism as the final and most refined form of pre-Christian trinities was discussed by the Greek historian Herodotus, the Greek biographer Plutarch, the philosopher Porphyry, Origen and St. Jerome the church Fathers. Mithraism was quite often noted by many historians for its many shocking similarities to Christianity. The faithful referred to Mithras as "the Light of the World", symbol of truth, justice, and loyalty. He was mediator between heaven and earth and was a member of a holy trinity. According to Persian mythology, Mithras was born of a virgin given the title “mother of god.” The god remained celibate throughout his life, and valued self-control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality among his worshippers. Mithras represented a system of ethics in which brotherhood was encouraged in order to unify against the forces of evil. The worshippers of Mithras held strong beliefs in a celestial heaven and an infernal hell. They believed that the benevolent powers of the god would sympathize with their suffering and grant them the final justice of immortality and eternal salvation in the world to come. They looked forward to a final Day of Judgment in which the dead would resurrect, and to a final conflict that would destroy the existing order of all things to bring about the triumph of light over darkness.

 

            Purification through a ritualistic baptism was required of the faithful, who also took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread to symbolize the body and blood of the god. Mithras traveled as a teacher and illuminator of men with twelve disciples. Sundays were held sacred, and the birth of the god was celebrated annually on December 25th, the temple of Mithras was lit with candles, priests in white garments celebrated the birth of the son of god and boys burned incense. After the earthly mission of this god had been accomplished, he took part in a Last Supper with his companions before ascending to heaven, to forever protect the faithful from above. Mithraic rituals brought about the transformation and Salvation of his adherents, an ascent of the soul of the adherent into the realm of the divine. It was written on the wall of a Mithraic temple in Rome: "And thou hast saved us by shedding the eternal blood."

 

            However, it would be a vast oversimplification to suggest that Mithraism was the single forerunner of early Christianity. Aside from Christ and Mithras, there were plenty of other deities (such as Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, and Dionysus) said to have died and resurrected. Many classical heroic figures, such as Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus, were said to have been born through the union of a virgin mother and divine father.

 

In order to fully understand the religion of Mithraism it is necessary to look to its foundation in Persia, where originally a multitude of gods were worshipped. Amongst them were Ahura-Mazda, god of the skies, and Ahriman, god of darkness. In the sixth and seventh century B.C., a vast reformation of the Persian pantheon was undertaken by Zoroaster, a prophet from the kingdom of Bactria. The stature of Ahura-Mazda was elevated to that of supreme god of goodness, whereas the god Ahriman became the ultimate embodiment of evil. Ahura-Mazda was said to have created Mithras in order to guarantee the authority of contracts and the keeping of promises. The name Mithras was, in fact, the Persian word for 'contract'. The divine duty of Mithras was to ensure general prosperity through good contractual relations between men. It was believed that misfortune would befall the entire land if a contract was ever broken. Mithras was born of Anahita, an immaculate virgin mother once worshipped as a fertility goddess before the hierarchical reformation. Mithras came from heaven to be born as a man, to redeem men from their sin. He was know as "Savior," "Son of God," "Redeemer," and "Lamb of God." The ascension of Mithras to heaven was said to have occurred 64 years after his birth.

 

Persian Mithraism was more a collection of traditions and rites than a body of doctrines. However, once the Babylonians took the Mithraic rituals and mythology from the Persians, they thoroughly refined its theology. The Babylonian clergy assimilated Ahura-Mazda to the god Baal, Anahita to the goddess Ishtar, and Mithras to Shamash, their god of justice, victory and protection (and the sun god from whom King Hammurabi received his code of laws in the 18th century BC) As a result of the solar and astronomical associations of the Babylonians, Mithras later was referred to by Roman worshippers as “Sol invictus” or the invincible sun. The sun itself was considered to be "the eye of Mithras".

 

Mithras was worshipped as guardian of arms, and patron of soldiers and armies. The handshake was developed by those who worshipped him as a token of friendship and as a gesture to show that you were unarmed. When Mithras later became the Roman god of contracts, the handshake gesture was imported throughout the Mediterranean and Europe by Roman soldiers.

 

It is one of the great of ironies of history that Romans ended up worshipping the god of their chief political enemy, the Persians. The Roman historian Quintus Rufus recorded in his book History of Alexander that before going into battle against the 'anti-Mithraean country' of Rome, the Persian soldiers would pray to Mithras for victory. However, after the two enemy civilizations had been in contact for more than a thousand years, the worship of Mithras finally spread from the Persians through the Phrygians of Turkey to the Romans. The Romans viewed Persia as a land of wisdom and mystery, and Persian religious teachings appealed to those Romans who found the established state religion uninspiring. In those days, it was imperial policy to remove troops as far as possible from their country of origin in order to prevent local uprisings. A Roman soldier, who after several years of service in his native country had been promoted to the rank of centurion, was transferred to a foreign station where he was later assigned to a new garrison. This way, the entire body of centurions of any one legion constituted a microcosm of the empire. The vast extent of the Roman colonies formed links between Persia and the Mediterranean and caused the diffusion of the Mithraic religion into the Roman world. Mithraism became a military religion under the Romans. The many dangers to which the Roman soldiers were exposed caused them to seek the protection of the gods of their foreign comrades in order to obtain success in battle or a happier life through death. The soldiers adopted the Mithraic faith for its emphasis on victory, strength, and security in the next world. Temples and shrines were dedicated to Mithras across the empire. In 67 BC, the first congregation of Mithras-worshipping soldiers existed in Rome under the command of General Pompey after defeating the Sicilian pirates.  Mithras appears epigraphically in the circles of the Roman emperor in the first century CE, around the time the canonical Christian Gospels were written.

 

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