Best resources – Christmas, Mithras, and Paul

Merry Christmas! And the question is, if Jesus was born sometime in the spring (when the shepherds were in the fields with the sheep, and the animals’ area with the manger under the house kataluma wasn’t being used), why did Christians create a winter solstice celebration for him instead?

Paul has an epileptic seizure on the road to Damascus

The answer is that Paul caused it. Paul’s intent was to create a Judaism-based religion that would be universally acceptable; he was a Roman citizen, not just a member of a conquered nation, and he wanted his religion to be Roman as well as Jewish. Reputedly epileptic, his seizures gave rise to religious visions, the most famous being of Jesus (who he never met) guiding him along a syncretist path. Paul took popular elements of Roman, Egyptian and Persian religions, and expressed the message of his religion in whatever form was most acceptable to the Empire as a whole.

The most popular religion with the Roman military was Mithraism. It was exclusively male, a mystery cult with seven levels of initiation, and a clear-cut view of the world as the battle-ground between good and evil. It promised eternal life to its believers, and its god was Mithras, the Unconquerable Sun.

For an extensive review of the whole issue, I refer you to Ben Best’s enormous review of the roots of Christmas, from which I quote:

“Mithras was a divine being borne of a human virgin on December 25th (the Winter Solstice by the Roman Julian calendar), his birth watched and worshiped by shepherds. As an adult, Mithras healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Before returning to heaven at the Spring Equinox Mithras had a last supper with 12 disciples (representing the 12 signs of the Zodiac). Mithraism included Zoroastrian beliefs in the struggle between good & evil, symbolized as light & darkness. This militaristic black-and-white morality (including a final judgment affecting an afterlife of heaven or hell) probably accounted for the popularity of Mithraism among Roman soldiers. Mithraism was like an ancient fraternity: a mystery cult open only to men which had seven degrees of initiation — including the ritual of baptism and a sacred meal of bread & wine representing the body & blood of Mithras.”

The original December 25th Virgin Birth

The purple-robed priests, candles, incense, circular wafers and Queen of Heaven motifs were ideas that were familiar and attractive to Egyptians. The winter solstice greeting cards and presents, the greenery of trees and branches and garlands, the pantheon of saints to pray to – those customs were comfortable among Greeks and Romans. But the December 25th Virgin Birth (along with much else) was what would make Paul’s Christianity completely familiar and acceptable to the Roman Legions.

In The Gospel According to the Romans, the Roman military are Mithraists while Jesus and his followers are Jews. There weren’t any Christians yet, of course.

About these ads

11 comments on “Best resources – Christmas, Mithras, and Paul

  1. simonkearns says:

    Thanks for this. I did a bit of digging and it has put Mithras into place for with re. the epochs.

    A common representation of Mithras shows him slaying a bull, this images the end of the age of Taurus (Moses threw down the Golden Calf around the same time) – it is the gradual move from polytheism to monotheism, the move into the age of Aries (war, heroes, sun-worship)

    After the age of Aries comes, of course, the age of Pisces, the age of Christianity.

  2. Gordon Dent says:

    Thanks, Robin: that’s really interesting. I’m going to go and read Ben Best’s page now. It’s interesting how other pagan rituals or artefacts also got tacked onto Christmas in some countries. I think Celtic druids began independently of Mithraism, although the two probably merged as the Roman empire spread. But misteltoe – the hibernal dwelling of the spirit of the oak-king for the druids – has significance in other mythologies, too. I’ve read that it should always be hung out of reach because of the mischievous use to which it was put by Loki in bringing about the death of Baldur. I’m sure Norse & Teutonic myths have common roots with Celtic & Roman ones but it’s interesting to find something so apparently insignificant as misteltoe turning up in both branches.

    • Thanks for the comments, Gordon. I should mention that Ben feels I am in error in allowing the impression that Paul was the creator of Christmas as we know it. My bad – I didn’t mean to imply that it was Paul’s creation. However, I feel that Paul actively promoted the religious syncretism that allowed the merging of Mithras, Saturnalia and Christianity.

      Be that as it may, I hope you enjoy Ben’s rich and rapid overview of the forces that influenced the world’s biggest holiday.

    • Thales says:

      Hi Sandra, I really eenoyjd reading this post. You have such a wonderful writing style. Every time I hear the word cult, it’s hard to not be surprised, but being lowered in that pit with the blood of a bull being poured on me would freak me out. No doubt I would not have passed the ritual test. The frescoes are really interesting too and the fact that some churches are built over these places. Thank you so much for writing this post and sharing another interesting discovery in Rome’s history. Hope you’re having a wonderful 2013 so far.

  3. reyjacobs says:

    Mithras is the statue of liberty.

  4. Just because a lie has been perpetrated for over 2,000 years doesn’t negate the truth. There is nothing in the pages of the Holy Scriptures that points to Mithraism.

    • David, I appreciate that attitude. Just because something has been said or written down for 2,000 years doesn’t make it true. Such statements should be verified objectively and scientifically.

      Some statements from that long ago stand up very well to investigation, and some don’t. I hope you apply your critical thinking widely!

    • Molly says:

      Thanks for the comments, Gordon. I solhud mention that Ben feels I am in error in allowing the impression that Paul was the creator of Christmas as we know it. My bad I didn’t mean to imply that it was Paul’s creation. However, I feel that Paul actively promoted the religious syncretism that allowed the merging of Mithras, Saturnalia and Christianity. Be that as it may, I hope you enjoy Ben’s rich and rapid overview of the forces that influenced the world’s biggest holiday.

Leave a Reply here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s