The Hidden Roots of Christianity : The origins of the Christian religion

 

VARGHESE PAMPLANIL

Among organised religions,Christianity claims to be the largest in terms of membership. However, the statistics put out may be misleading in the sense thatall those who have undergone infant baptism is deemed as Christians, whether they practise it or not.

 

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Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, a diaspora Jew, in the Hellenistic mould, is the person who established the Christian religion. Being a Roman citizen, as well as a businessman, he could travel all over the Roman world to ply his business along with the propagation of his brand of religion.

 

Many commentators feel that Paul opted out of Judaism and started a new religion to spite his teacher Gemayel, who refused to give his daughter in marriage to the ugly looking runt and epileptic Paul. The Jews abhor blood and Paul was handling blood- soaked animal skins to erect tents for the Roman army.

 

Why Christianity attracted the common people

The mystery religions before Christianity were of exclusiveness and restricted to the select. Secrecy and complicated initiation ceremonies were their hallmarks. But Christianity offered itself as a different mystery religion open to all. This religion also claimed to possess magical powers. Thus, ordinary people were able to become its members.

 

The initial followers of the new religion were people belonging to margins of the Roman society, living at the periphery: slaves, house maids, prostitutes, keeps and concubines of Roman citizens and migrants to the city. 

 

To the Romans, Christians were superstitious, atheistic, prone to be licentious and aberrant sexual orgies in the darkness of the night. Christianity was looked down upon as an abomination. Romans felt that this religion was spread by children and stupid women.

 

After Emperor Constantine recognised Christianity as the state religion, Roman soldiers joined the new religion en-masse to avoid excruciating military drills, at least on Sundays. The elite Romans joined the religion, not because Christianity was a better one, but because of phelps privileges and the opportunities to become Cardinals and bishops.

 

Jesus was a rustic in demeanour and way of life. He moved among the riffraff of Galilee — beggars, prostitutes, lepers, physically handicapped etc., who were shunned by others. Jesus was a ground-to-earth pragmatic. He was no cult or religious leader.

 

What stands out in sharp focus is Jesus’s humanity and fellow-ship with the abandoned people.His readiness to share whatever food he got with the hungry and the deprived stood out.

 

He poured scorn and ridicule on the Jewish priesthood, called them pretenders, shallow-minded and even poisonous vipers.The most abrasive language was employed against the Pharisees and the  Sadducees.

 

The claim that Jesus established a monarchical church;an emperor pope with princely cardinals and bishops fly in the face of facts.

 

The Church Fathers, particularly from Alexandria,were attracted to the thoughts of Pythagorus and others.

 

They were specially influenced by Plato’s  theology and Aristotlenatural sciences.

 

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)

To curry favour with the Romans, Christians put the entire blame for the crucifixion of Jesus squarely on the heads and shoulders of the Jews. For ages they were persecuted and forced to wander all over the world, without home and hearth. Their suffering reached the zenith during World War II at the hands of Hitler, himself a half Jew. The Jews were compelled to live in ghettos; thousands were incinerated ingas chambers set up by Naziparty.

 

Christians took over the Hebrew Bible (which has common roots in Sumerian and other myths); cherry picked portions advantageous to them. The Hebrew Bible itself is the story of an ever quarrelling tribe of sheep herders; compiled as late as 900 BCE and  further revised in the 7th century BCE.

 

The Christian Bible (The New Testament)

The gospels were written decades after the death of the protagonist, by people who never set eyes on him. They did not witness any of Jesus’ doings. Jesus did not leave anything in writing. He was illiterate. At the most, a dozen or so oral statements, in his native tongue Aramaic, could be attributed to him.

 

No book in the world has undergone so much editing, re-editing,redating, rewriting, and back-ward writing (to legitimise later interpolations). On top of all,the compilation of the book was done away from public scrutiny.

 

Mark’s gospel is full of miracle stories believed to have been lifted from outside sources. Luke did not belong to Palestine/Israel. His gospel contains mostly “fairy tales”. The genre of John’s gospel is different; his gospel is attuned to the theology of Plato.

 

Did Christianity evolve out of Mithraism?

 

God Mithras, also known as Mithra, Mitra, Meitros, Mihir, and Meher,is of Persian /Iranian origin. This god, in different permutations and combinations, was worshipped throughout Europe and Asia from around 3000 BCE. Mithras is also referred to as Sol Invictus – the invincible Sun.

 

Beginning with Darius, the Great (522-486 BCE), Kings of Persia were Mithra worshipping Zoroastrians. This Persian god became popular in the Roman world from the beginning of 2nd century CE. From the year 136 CE, hundreds of dedicatory inscriptions to Mithras emerged.

 

Roman Mithraism, like Iranian Mithraism, was a religion of loyalty to the king. Mithraism was encouraged by emperors, Commodus (180-192) and Septimius (193-211). When Diocletian attempted renewal of the Roman state and religion, he opted for Mithraism. In 307 CE, Diocletian made a dedication at Carnuntum in Vienna in honour of Mithras, as patron of the empire.

 

The worship of Mithras,continued by the Romans clandestinely, despite the attempts by Emperor Theodosius I, the cold blooded “butcher” from Spain to eradicate it at the pain of death and banishment. Mithra worship got revived in Christianity from 5th century; the Church leadership found it expedient to reshape Christianity to converge with Mithraism to be acceptable to the general population of the empire.

 

Christ (the Anointed) does not represent any real person, least of all the Galilean Jesus, whom Paul never met. The resurrected Christ of Paul was the product of his hallucinatory brain during one of his epileptic fits.

 

The belief in Mithras got embedded in the Babylonian belief system. Mithra worship spread to Britain, Italy, Scotland, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Syria, Israel, North Africa. In fact Mithraism assumed the contours of a world religion.

 

The wide popularity of Mithraism,as the most refined form of pre-Christian religion,was highlighted by  Greek historian Herodotus, Greek biographer Plutarch and Church Fathers Origen and Jerome.

 

Similarities between Mithraism and Christianity

 

Many historians have highlighted the telltale and astonishing similarities between Mithraism and Christianity.

 

The book “Mysteries of Mithras” (1900) by Franz Cumont (1868-1947)—Belgian archeologist — is an in-depth analysis of Mithraism.

 

Given below is a summary from Cumont’s article “Mithraism and Christianity (A Comparison),

 

Mithras was considered “as the light of the world” symbol of truth, justice and loyalty. He was believed to be mediator between heaven and earth and a member of the “Holy Trinity”

 

According to Persian mythology,“Mithras was born of a Virgin”, with the title “Mother of God”. Mithras remained celibate throughout his life and valued self control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality. The  worshipers of Mithras were encouraged to follow brotherhood among themselves in order to unify them  against the forces of evil. They held strong belief in a celestial heaven and an infernal hell. They also believed that the benevolent powers of God would sympathise with their sufferings and grant them the final justice of immortality and eternal salvation in the world to come. They  looked forward to the day of Judgment in which the dead would  resurrect, followed by a final conflict that would destroy the existing order of things to bring about triumph of light over darkness.

 

Purification through ritualistic baptism was required of the faithful. They also had a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread to symbolise the body and blood of their god. Sundays were held sacred.

 

Towards the end of the accomplishment of his earthly mission, god Mithras believed to have partaken a Last Supper with his companions (could have been 12) before ascending to heaven. He promised to protect the faithful from heaven forever.

 

Ideas common in Mithraism and Christianity

 

  1. Mithras and Christ were born on 25 December. But if the Bible accounts are taken as correct, Jesus’ birth happened in the spring.
  2. Both promised salvation.
  3. The water-miracle is common in the Mithraic and Bible narrative.
  4. The sign theCross is a common motif of both.
  5. Mithraic motifs and medieval Christian art are more or less identical.
  6. Christians built their churches on Mithraic sites.

 

Earned Renan,in 1882, set forth a vivid depiction of these two rival religions. “If the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic”, he says. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in his book “Eastern Religions and Western Thoughts” has arrived at the same conclusion.

 

Till Cumont collected hitherto unknown evidences, very little was known about Mithraism.

 

The two groups had different objectives. The cult of Mithras did not aim at a universal role even at the peak of its popularity.

 

Vermaseren in 1975 wrote that the similarities between Mithraism and Christianity could have arisen from a shared cultural world.

 

Cumont concluded that the birthday of Mithras – Sol Invictus –  was fixed on 25 December to conform with his festival on that date.

 

Salvation

A badly damaged painted text on the wall of the Mithraneum in Rome appear to contain words: “et nos servasti … sanguine fuso (and you have saved us….in the shed blood). The implications of the message, however,is unclear.

 

Marked with the sign of the Cross

 

Some scholars have pointed that Mithraicinitiates were marked with the “sign of the cross”. The idea is echoed in Tertullian statement that the foreheads of the followers of Mithras were marked “in an unspecified manner”.

 

Christians re-use of Mithraic sites and monuments

Several of the best preserved Mithraea are found underneath the Basilica of San Clemente, Santa Prisca etc. In the 5th century a number of churches were built on top of ruined high prestige buildings dedicated to Mithras. Some have artefacts of Mithrasin the basements.

 

A view may arise that Christianity, like other religions, is man made one built on earlier myths, beliefs and motifs.

 

Summing up

Homosapians — human beings— had evolved more than 2.5 million years ago in Africa. From there, they dispersed to various parts of the world. Much before that had evolved human like creatures— Homo-Erectus and other types. They also would have believed in some unknown powers and would have tried to propitiate them by offering sacrifices: could also have made submissions and pleas. 

 

What differentiates humans from animals? Humans are rational beings endowed with the power of reasoning. As a rule, we are inquisitive. Our brains are ever busy. Ideas germinate in our minds continuously. This trait of having ever new ideas have propelled us through the stairways of progress. But for them, we would have been digging out roots and picking up berries to eat and survive. We will still be depending on left over putrid flesh, in raw, discarded by other animals to survive; would also have been living in caves covering ourselves with barks of trees and smelly skins of dead animals to escape from harsh elements of nature; cowering in utter fear in the darkness of night without any light.

 

Are Catholics idol worshipers?

The assembly lines of the Catholic Church, spew out, on an ongoing basis, saints of various hues,in droves.There could be more than 10,000 Catholic saints all together as of now. The faithful are urged to pay obeisance to them. Even in the small state of Kerala, hundreds and hundreds of idols of saints, mostly of  foreign origin,are found installed at nooks and corners. Believers, especially women, bow before the inert statues; touch them in reverence;make supplications,prayers and entreaties for boons. Boisterous processions wind through the thoroughfares with cacophony of sound and fury. This con-game is primarily aimed at collecting high denomination currency notes in their thousands from the gullible  superstitious believers. Such things are very rare in well informed societies.

 

People of Kerala, including Catholics, are almost 100% literate. But are we educated in the wider context? We live in an exciting time of breathtaking scientific progress. So why should we carry the burden of dead wood of fossilised ideas and nostrums.

 

One may encounter the sublime in flowers and ferns and stars twinkling in a clear night sky. Wecome across the manifestations of the wondrous creation all around us. Listening to music gives us peace and tranquillity. Deep breathing, yoga practising including “savasana” are beneficial.

 

A story I heard in my childhood come to mind. An elderly woman prayed, with all her heart, to the Archangel. Then she saw the hideous statue of the Devil with a long tail,horn and all that lying prone at the feet of the angel with his lance poised to strike.To the Devil also she prayed ardently on the ground: “who knows, she thought, she may end up in hell; in that case she may need the goodwill of the Devil too!”

 

Bibliography:

1.  Michael Walsh – “Roots of Christianity”.

2.  Uta Ranke-Heinemann -“Putting Away Childish Things.”

3.  Dr. S. Radhakrishnan-“Eastern Religions and    Western Thoughts.”

4.  Louis A. Ruprechet Jr. -“This Tragic Gospel.”

5.  Bart D. Ehrman-“Jesus, Interrupted.”

6.  Ian Wilson -“Jesus,The Evidence.”

7.  Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince -“The Masks of Christ.”

8.  Prof. Franz Cumont -“Mithraism and Christianity (A Comparison).

9.  Robin Lane Fox -“An Unauthorised Version of Bible.”

10. John and Kathleen Court -“The New Testament World.”

11. Graham Phelps -“The Marian Conspiracy.”

12.  Mark Allen Powel -“Jesus Debate.”

13. John P. Meir-“Jesus the Marginal Jew.”

14. E. P. Sanders -“Jesus Prophet of End Times.”

15.  A.N. Wilson -“.Jesus

16.  Barbara Tiering-“Jesus the Man.”

17. Geza Vermes  “Religion of Jesus the Jew.”

18. Geza Vermes – “Changing Faces of Jesus.”

19. J.Warner -“ Jesus Retelling Mithra Myths?.

20. Barbara Sprout — “Primal Myths.

21. Wikipedia— “Mithraism and Other Beliefs.”

22. Pierre A. Thome — “Mithraism.”

23.Ancient History Encyclopaedia —“Mithraism”

24. Stanford University — “A Study of Mithraism.”

25. Article — “Mithraism and Christianity.”

         

 

 

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