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Bruce Metzger

HISTORICAL AND LITERARY STUDIES

PAGAN, JEWISH, AND CHRISTIAN

Grand Rapids 3, Michigan

Wm. B. Eerdmans

1968 

[Web-Editor’s note: Page numbers and page-to-page sentence flow correspond exactly to original document. Various foreign language accents have not been retained in this electronic copy. Our Apologetics website received permission to host this essay by Bruce Metzger in handwriting, March 14, 2002]

METHODOLOGY IN THE STUDY OF THE MYSTERY

RELIGIONS AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY

By Bruce M. Metzger

From the days of the Renaissance and Reformation to the present, the Mystery Religions of antiquity have engaged the attention of classical scholars and theologians alike.1 During what may be called the precritical stage of the study of this subject, it was commonly believed that by the Mysteries a constant succession of priests or hierophants transmitted from age to age an esoteric doctrine, better and nobler than that of the popular religion.2 Whether this recondite science had been derived originally from the hidden wisdom of India or Egypt, or from the Old Testament, or even from a primitive revelation to all mankind, was debated with characteristic disregard for historical methodology.

The first scholar who made an exhaustive and critical examination of the statements of ancient authors regarding the Mysteries was Christian August Lobeck.3 Although Lobeck confined his attention to the Eleusinian, the Orphic, and the Samothracian Mysteries, his monograph, published in 1829, was of the greatest importance in the inauguration of a new era in the scientific study of the subject in general. A great deal of rubbish and pseudo-learning was swept aside, and it became possible to discuss intelligently the rites and teachings of the Mysteries.4

Furthermore, it was also during the nineteenth century that ar-

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[Footnotes, pg. 1]

1. Perhaps the first from the standpoint of classical scholarship as well as Protestant theology to give serious consideration to the Mysteries was Isaac Casaubon. In his De rebus sacris et ecclesiasticis exercitationes (London, 1614) he attempted to show that sacramental ceremonies in the early Roman Catholic Church were influenced by the ancient Mystery religions. For an account of the preceding period, see Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (New Haven, 1958).

2. E.g., G. E. J. de Sainte Croix, Recherches historiques et critiques sur les mysteres du paganisme (Paris, 1784). and F. Creuzer, Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Volker (Leipzig. 1810).

3 C. A. Lobeck, Aglaophamus, sive de theologiae rnysticae Graecorurn causis, 2 vols. (Konigsberg, 1829).

4 For a brief summary of some of the earlier discussions of the question of the relation of the Mysteries to Christianity, see Samuel Cheetham, The Mysteries, Pagan and Christian (London. 1897), pp. ix sqq.

 


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chaeology began to make quite significant additions to what was known of the beliefs and practices of devotees of the Mysteries. Excavations of places of worship supplemented the evidence from classical and patristic authors with thousands of inscriptions, mosaics, gems, statues, altars, lamps, sacrificial instruments, and the like.

It thus became increasingly possible to make scientific comparisons between the Mysteries and early Christianity. From the latter part of the nineteenth century to the present, many scholars have expressed their opinion regarding the relationship between the Church and the competing religions in the Roman Empire.1 As would be expected in view of the fragmentary and occasionally ambiguous evidence, different investigators have arrived at quite divergent results. On the one hand, some scholars believe that only a minimum of outside influence came to bear upon primitive Christianity (e.g., Anrich,2 Cheetham,3 Clemen,4 Kennedy,5 Machen,6 Fracassini,7 Boulanger,8 Jacquier,9 Nock,10 Heigl,11 Priimm,12 Rahner,13

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[Footnotes, pg. 2]

1. Besides the scores of monographs published during the past century which deal exclusively with tile relation of the Mysteries to Christianity, there are hundreds of volumes which devote one or more chapters to this question, not to speak of hundreds of additional studies in which the authors more briefly express their opinion on the problem. In addition, there is an enormous bibliography on the Mysteries per se. A. D. Nock remarks with subtle sarcasm, "’Savior-gods’ and mysteries probably did not bulk so large in the life of the first century A.D. as in modern study"; see his "Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background." in Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation, ed. A. E. J. Rawlinson (London, 1928), p. 81; reprinted in Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hetlenistic Background (New York, 1964), p. 29.

2. Gustav Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Einfluss auf das Christentum, (G6ttingen, 1894).

3. Op. cit.

4. Carl Clernen, Religionsgeschichtliche Erklarung des Neuen Testaments. Die Abhangigkeit des altesten Christentums von nichjudischen Religionen und philosophischen Svstemen (Giessen, 1909); Eng. Trans., Primitive Christianity and Its Non.Jewish Sources (Edinburgh. 1912); and Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen auf das alteste Christentum (Religionsgesckichttiche Versuche und Vorarbeiten, xiii; Giessen, 1913).

5. H. A. A. Kennedy. St. Paul and the Mystery Religions (London, 1913).

6. J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion (New York. 1921), pp. 211-290.

7. Umberto Fracassini, II misticismo greco e il Cristianesimo (Citta di Castello, 1922).

8. Andre Boulanger, Orphee, rapports de l’orpkisme et du Christianisme (Paris, 1925).

9. Ernst Jacquier, "Mysthres paiens (les) et Saint Paul," Dictionnaire apologetique de la foi catholique, ed. A. d’Ales, III (1926). 964-1014.

 


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Zwart,1 and Wagner2). Others, on the other hand, believe not only that the amount of influence was relatively large but also that it made itself felt in the formulation of central doctrines and rites of the Church (e.g., Hatch,3 Wobbermin,4 Gardner,5 Soltan,6 Briickner,7 Reitzenstein,8 Perdelwitz,9 Loisy,10 Bousset,11 Bohlig,12 Glasse,13

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[Footnotes, pg. 3]

[Notes actually continue from page 2]

10. A. D. Nock’s essay mentioned above, p. 2, note I; and his articles on "Le religioni di mistero," Ricerche religiose, vi (1930), 392-403, and "Mysteries," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, xi (1937), 172-175.

11. Bartholomaus Heigl, Antike Mysterienreligionen und Urchristenium (Munster, 1932).

12. Karl Prumm. Der christliche Glaube und die altheidnische Welt, 2 vols. (Leipzig. 1935); Das antike Heidenium nach seinem Grundstrommungen. Ein Handbuch zur biblischen und altchristlichen Umweltkunde (Munster, 1942); Religionsgeschichtliches Handbuch fur den Raum der altchristlichen Umwelt (Rome, 1954); and "Mysteres," Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplement, VI, fasc. 30 (Paris, 1957). cols. 1-225.

13. Hugo Rahner, "Das christliche Mysterium und die heidnischen Mysterien," Eranos.-Jahrbuch, 1944 (Band xi), Die Mysterien (Zurich, 1945) 347-449.

1. Alb. Zwart, Heidensche en christelijke mysterien; de theologische grondslagen der mysterienliturgie (Brussels/Amsterdam, 1947).

2. Gunter Wagner, Das religionsgeschichtliche Problem von Romer 6, .1-l1 (Abhandlungen zur Theologie des Alten und Neuen Testaments, 39; Zurich Stuttgart, 1962); Eng. trans., Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries

(Edinburgh and London, 1967).

3. Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church (London, 1890).

4. Georg Wobbermin, Religionsgeschichtliche Studien zur Frage der Beeinflussung des Urchristentiums durch das antike Mysterienwesen (Berlin, 1896).

5. Percy Gardner, The Origin of the Lord’s Supper (London, 1893); The Growth of Christianity (London, 1907); and The Religious Experience of St. Paul (London, 1911).

6. Wilhelm Soltau, Das Fortleben des Heidentums in der altchristlichen Kirche (Tubingen, 1906).

7. Martin Bruckner, Der sterbende und auferstehende Gottheiland in den orientalischen Religionen und ihr Verhaltnis zum Christentum (Tubingen. 1908).

8. Richard Reitzenstein, Die hellenistichen Mysterienreligionen (Leipzig, 1910; 3rd ed., 1927).

9. Richard Perdelwitz, Die Mysterienreligionen und das Problem des I Petrusbriefes (Giessen, 1911).

10. AlIred Loisy, "The Christian Mystery," Hibbert Journal, x (1911-12). 45-64; and Les mysteres paiens et le mystere chretien (Paris, 1914; 2e ed., 1930).

11. Wilhelm Bousset, "Christentum und Mysterienreligionen," Theologische Rundschau, xv (1912), 41-61; "Die Religionsgeschichte und das Neue Testament," ibid., 251-278; Kyrios Christos (Gottingen, 1913); and Jesus der Herr (Gottingen. 1916).

12. Hans Bohlig, Die Geisteskultus von Tarsos im augusteischen Zeitalter mit Beruchsichtigung der paulinischen Schriften (Gottingen, 1913).

13. John Glasse, The Mysteries and Christianity (Edinburgh, 1921).

 


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Elderkin,1 Macchioro,2 Weigall,3 Case,4 Schutze,5 Holland,6 Hyde,7 Vassall,8 Prentice,9 and Schneider10).

Such widely divergent opinions are due, at least in part, to differences in methodology in dealing with the evidence. In what follows an attempt is made to outline some considerations which, it is suggested, must be taken into account in estimating the amount of influence of the Mysteries upon early Christianity.

I. First of all, a distinction is to be made between the faith and practice of the earliest Christians and that of the Church during subsequent centuries. One cannot deny that post-Constantinian Christianity, both Eastern and Western, adopted not a few pagan rites and practices.11 From Asclepius came the practice of incubation in churches for the cure of diseases.12 The functions of more than

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[Footnotes, pg. 4]

1. George W. Elderkin, Kantharos; Studies in Dionysiac and Kindred Cult (Princeton. 1924).

2. Vittorio Macchioro. Orfismo e Paolinismo. studi e poletemiche (Montevarchi, 1922); and From Orpheus to Paul, a History of Orphism (New York, 1930).

3. Arthur Weigall, The Paganism in our Christianity (London, c. 1928).

4. Shirley Jackson Case, Experience with the Supernatural in Early Christian Times (New York, 1929), pp. 106-145. and The Origins of Christian Supernaturalism (Chicago, c. 1946).

5. A. Schutze, Mithras-Mysterien und Urchristentum (Stuttgart. 1937).

6. A. Holland, Les cultes de mystres; l’ancienne redemption paienne et Ie Christianisme (Paris. 1938).

7. W. W. Hyde, Paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire (Philadelphia, 1946), and Greek Religion and its Survivals (New York, 1963).

8. William F. Vassall, The Origin of Christianity. Brief Study of the World’s Early Beliefs and their Influence on the Early Church (New York, 1952).

9. William K. Prentice. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Boston, 1953), pp. 139-162.

10. Carl Schneider, Geistesgeschichte des antiken Christentums, I (Munich. 1954), pp. 84ff. and 256ff.

11. Cf. the following statement in a letter which Flavius Vopiscus attributes to Hadrian: "The land of Egypt ... I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis ... Even the patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ." Scriptores historiae Augustae. Firmus, viii (Loeb Classical Library. III, 399f., ed. and trans. by David Magic). The fact that this letter is an obvious forgery does not detract from its value in reflecting the opinion of a fourth century non-Christian author who wrote perhaps during the Julian revival. Christian syncretism in Egypt emerged at least as early as the second half of the second century when certain Gnostics established a Larium (in Alexandria?) where they venerated images of Jesus, Pythagoras, Plato. Aristotle, and other philosophers (Irenaeus. Adv. haer. I, xxv, 6 [I. 210, Harvey]).

12. See L. Deubner, De incubatione ca pita qualtuor (Leipzig, 1900); Mary

 


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one local demi-god were taken over by Christian saints whose names even, in some cases, remind one of the original pagan prototypes.1 Statues of Isis holding the infant Harpocrates (Horus),2 as well as the exalted hymns in honor of the Egyptian Queen of Heaven, find their obvious counterparts in the growth of the cult of Mary.3 Just as Sabazios with characteristic gesture—three fingers raised, the thumb and other finger bent down—blessed his adherents, so the Catholic bishop of the West gave (and still gives) his blessing to the faithful.4 Through various paths the ancient idea of ‘refrigerium"

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[Footnotes, pg. 5]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 4]

Hamilton, Incubation, or the Cure of Disease in Pagan Temples and Christian

Churches (London. 1906); and E. J. and L. Edelstein, Asclepius, 2 vols. (Baltimore. 1945).

1. See Ernst Lucius, Die Anfange des Heiligenkults (Tubingen, 1904); W. W. Hyde. Greek Religion and Its Survivals (Boston, 1923), pp. 41-85; Hippolyte Delehaye, Les legendes hagiographiques, 3e ed. (Brussels, 1923), pp. 140-201; G. J. Laing, Survivals of Roman Religion (Boston, 1931); idem, "Roman Religious Survivals in Christianity," in Environmental Factors in Christian History, ed. by J. T. McNeill (Chicago, 1939), pp. 72-90; and L. J. van der Lof, "Die Mysterienkulte zur Zeit Augustins," Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. LIII (1962). 245-251.

2. For influence in apocryphal literature, see G. Klameth, "Harpokrato motivai apokrifu pasakojimuose apie Jesans vaikyste," ["Quomodo Aegyptii mythi de divino infante Harpocrate influxerint in narrationes apocryphas de infantia Christi Domini"], Soter, religijos mokslo laikrastis, iv (1927), 62-67.

3. While it is doubtless true that the earliest artistic representations of Mary with the infant Jesus do not portray her nursing the child, as was customary in the representation of Isis and Horns (so G. A. S. Snijder, De forma matris cum infanto sedentis apud antiquos [Vienna, 1923], p. 69), it is equally true that subsequent Christian art and cultus betray decided borrowings in this and other respects from the cult of Isis (and perhaps also the cult of Astarte); see W. Drexler, s.v. "Isis," in W. H. Roscher’s Ausfuhrliches Lexikon der griechischen und romischen Mythologie; Theodor Trede, "Die Himmelskanigin," in his Das Heidentum in dur romischen Kirche, II (Gotha, 1890), 338-371; Francis Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, I (Cambridge, 1915), 84-89; Werner Peek, Der Isishymnus von Andros und verwandle Texte (Berlin, 1930); E.O. James, Cult of the Mother-Goddess (New York, 1959) pp. 201-227; G. A. van Wellen, Theotokos, Eine Ikonographische Abhandlung uber das Gottasmutterbild in fruchristlicher Zeit (Utrecht/Antwerp, 1961); R. Merkelbach, Isisfeste in griechisck-romischer Zeit. Daten und Riten (Meisenheim am Glan, 1963); and R. E. Witt, "Isis-Hellas, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, No. 192 (1966). 48-69. especially pp. 65ff. for parallels with practices in the Greek Orthodox Church. On Isis and Greek patristic writers, see Witt, "The Importance of Isis for the Fathers," in Studia Patristica, vol. VIII, ed. F. L. Cross (= Texte und Untersuchungen, Band XCIII; Berlin, 1966), 135-145. Concerning influence from the cult of Astarte, see Gustav Rosch, "Astarte-Maria." Theologische Studien und Kritikin, LXI (1888), 265-299; cf. Trede, op. cit,. "Die grosse Mutter," pp. 85-121.

4. Chr. Blinkenberg, "Darstellungen des Sabazios und Denkmaler seines Kultus" in his Archaeologische Studien (Copenhagen, 1904), pp. 66-128, and


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entered both popular and official circles of the Church.1 Processions in which sacred objects are carried for display to the on-lookers, the tonsure of priests, certain funeral rites, the use of lighted tapers, popular ideas regarding the geography of Hades—all these have quite generally acknowledged pagan prototypes.2 The real difference of opinion, however, arises with regard to the relation of nascent Christianity to its pagan rivals.

II. The nature and amount of the evidence of the Mysteries create certain methodological problems. Partly because of a vow of secrecy imposed upon the initiates, relatively little information concerning the teaching imparted in the Mysteries has been preserved. Furthermore, since a large part of the scanty evidence regarding the Mysteries dates from the third, fourth, and fifth Christian centuries, it must not be assumed that beliefs and practices current at that time existed in substantially the same form during the pre-Christian era. In fact, that pagan doctrines would differ somewhat from place to place and from century to century is not only what one should have expected, but also what the sources reveal to be a fact, For example, the grades of Mithraic initiation in the West apparently included

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[Footnotes, pg. 6]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 5]

F. Cumont, Comptes rendus de l’Acaddmie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 1906, pp. 72-79.

1. See A.M. Schneider, Refrigerium nach literarischen Quellen und Inschriften, Inaug. Diss. (Freiburg mi B.. 1928); E. Buonaiuti, "Refrigerio pagano e refrigerio cristiano." Ricerche religiose, v (1929), 160-167; A. Perrot, Le "Refrigerium" dans l’au dela (Paris, 1937); Mircea Eliade, "Locum refrigerii…," Zalmoxis, revue des etudes religieuses, I (1938), 203-208; and J. Quasten.," ‘Vetus superstitio et nova religio,’ the Problem of Refrigerium in the Ancient Church of North Africa," Harvard Theological Review, XXXIII (1940), 253-266.

2. See Gerhard Loeschcke, Judisches und Heidnisches in christlichen Kult (Bonn, 1910), pp.16-36; A. Dieterich, Nekyia, 2te Aufl. (Leipzig, 1913); Andrew Aldfoldi, A Festival of Isis in Rome under the Christian Emperors of the Fourth Century (Budapest, 1937); M. P. Nilsson, "Pagan Divine Services in Late Antiquity," Harvard Theological Review, xxxviii (1945), 63-69; and Hugo Rahner, Griechiscke Mythen in christlicher Deutung (Zurich, 1945).

For a classical statement of the multifarious influence of paganism on the early and the medieval Church. see Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth, chap. 74 (Everymnan’s Library edition, chap. 72). No little research went into this chapter of Reade’s historical novel; for his sources, see Albert NI. Turner, The Making of the Cloister and the Hearth (Chicago, 1938), pp.186-188.

Some consideration of the earlier period is also given in Jean Seznec, La survivance des dieux antiques (Studies of the Warburg Institute, xi [London. 1940]), Eng. trans. and revision, The Survival of the Pagan Gods; The Mythological Tradition and its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art (New York, 1953).

 


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that of "Cryphius"; in the East (in its stead?) was that of "Nymphus."1 Again, over the years the efficacy of the rite of the taurobolium differed in what was promised to the initiate.2 Methodologically, therefore, it is extremely hazardous to assume, as has sometimes been done, that a pagan rite or belief which a Christian author cites must have existed in the same form in pre-Christian days.

III. Another methodological consideration, often overlooked by scholars who are better acquainted with Hellenistic culture than with Jewish, is involved in the circumstance that the early Palestinian Church was composed of Christians from a Jewish background, whose generally strict monotheism and traditional intolerance of syncretism must have militated against wholesale borrowing from pagan cults.3 Psychologically it is quite inconceivable that the Judaizers, who attacked Paul with unmeasured ferocity for what they considered his liberalism concerning the relation of Gentile converts to the Mosaic law, should nevertheless have acquiesced in what some have described as Paul’s thoroughgoing contamination of the central doctrines and sacraments of the Christian religion. Furthermore, with regard to Paul himself, scholars are coming once again to acknowledge that the Apostle’s prevailing set of mind was rabbinically oriented, and that his newly-found Christian faith ran in molds previously formed at the feet of Gamaliel.4

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[Footnotes, pg. 7]

1. See pp. 26ff. below.

2. According to epigraphical evidence, the taurobolium was efficacious for twenty years (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, vi, 504, of A.D. 376, and 152, of A.D. 390), for eternity (CIL, vi. 510, of A.D. 376), and, possibly, for twenty-eight years (so an inscription discussed by Cumont in Comptes rendus de l’Acaddmie des inscriptions, 1923, pp. 253ff.). See Clifford H. Moore, "The Duration of the Efficacy of the Taurobolium," Classical Philology, XIX (1924), 363-365. For convenient lists of inscriptions commemorating the taurobolium (a) "pro salute imperatoris" and (b) for private individuals, see H. Graillot, Le Culte de cybele, mere des dieux (Paris, 1912), pp. 159ff. and 167ff.

3. For a balanced essay on the general immunity of Jews from influences of the Mysteries, see S. H. Hooke’s chapter, "Christianity and the Mystery Religions," in the symposium, Judaism and Christianity, vol. 1, The Age of Transition, ed. by W. 0. E. Oesterley (London. 1937), pp. 235-250. Despite its useful contribution in the assembly of widely scattered materials. E.R. Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, 12 vols. (New York, 1953-65) falls short of proving that pre-Christian, Palestinian Judaism had been influenced by the Mysteries per se; see trenchant critiques by Morton Smith in Anglican Theological Review, xxxvi (1954), 218-220, in Journal of Biblical Literature, Lxxxvi (1967), 53-68, and by R. M. Grant in Gnomon, xxxviii (I966), 423f.

4. Noteworthy examples of this change of emphasis in Pauline studies are

 


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IV. In estimating the degree of opportunity afforded the early Palestinian Church of being influenced by the Mysteries, it is certainly a significant fact that, unlike other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Palestine has been extremely barren in yielding archaeological remains of the paraphernalia and places of worship connected with the Mysteries.1

V. That there are parallels between the Mysteries and Christianity has been observed since the early centuries of the Church, when both Christian2 and non-Christian3 alike commented upon certain similarities. In evaluating the significance of alleged parallels in certain crucial matters (i.e., the sacraments and the motif of a dying

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[Footnotes, pg. 8]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 7]

found in W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism; Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology (London, 1948; 2nd ed., 1955), and H. J. Schoeps, Paul, the Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (Philadelphia, 1961). On the question of Paul’s early training in Jerusalem, see the careful exegesis of Acts 22.3 by W. C. van Unnik, Tarsus or Jerusalem; the City of Paul’s Youth? trans. by G. Ogg (London, 1962).

1 According to the map prepared by Nicola Turchi (in his Le religioni misteriosofiche del mondo antico [Rome. 1923]), showing the diffusion of the Mysteries of Cybele, dea Syria, Isis, Mithra, Orpheus-Dionysius, and Samothrace in the Roman Empire, the only cult which penetrated Palestine proper was the Isiac cult. Evidence (is it merely numismatic?) for this cult was found at Aelia Capitolina. i.e., subsequent to Hadrian’s rebuilding of Jerusalem e. AD. 135. By this time the fundamental doctrines and sacraments of the Church had been fixed. Similar maps for tile cults of Isis, Mithra, and Cybele, which Herbert Preisker includes in his Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte (Berlin, 1937), likewise indicate no archaeological remains of these cults within Palestine during the first century. It is significant that in an early second century invocation to Isis (P. Oxy. 1380) containing a detailed list of places at which Isis was worshipped (67 places in Egypt, and 55 outside Egypt) the only place within Palestine that is mentioned (lines 94f.) is Strata’s Tower, the site on the Palestinian coast just south of Syria chosen by Herod the Great for the building of Caesarea, the capital of Roman Palestine.

Jerome provides literary evidence that at Bethlehem the cult of Adonis found a foothold as a result of Hadrian’s attempt to paganize Jerusalem and Its environs; Epistola lviii ad Paulinum, 3, "Bethleem, nunc nostram et augustissimum orbis locuni, ... lucus inumbrabat Thamuz, id est Adonidis, et in specu, ubi quondam Christus paruulus uagiit, Ueneris amasius plagebatur" (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, LIV, 532, 4-8 Hilberg). See also Wolf Wilhelm von Baudissin, Adonis und Esmun (Leipzig, 1911), p. 83 and p. 522, note 5.

2. E.g., Justin Martyr, Apol. I, lxvi, 4 and Dial., lxx. I; and Tertullian, de Corona, xv (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, LXX, 186-188 Kroymann) and de Praescript,. xl (ib., 51f.).

3. E.g.. apparently Celsus. ap. Origen, Contra Celsum, vi, 22 (Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller, Orig., II, 91-93 Klostermann) and, no doubt with exaggeration. Flavius Vopiscus, Firmus, viii (quoted above, p. 4, note II).

 


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and rising savior-god), consideration must be given to the following.

(A) Some of the supposed parallels are the result of the modern scholar’s amalgamation of quite heterogeneous elements drawn from various sources. As Schweitzer pointed out, "Almost all the popular writings fall into this kind of inaccuracy. They manufacture out of the various fragments of information a kind of universal Mystery religion which never actually existed, least of all in Paul’s day."1

Even reputable scholars have succumbed to the temptation to be more precise than the existing state of information will permit. Commenting on this temptation, Edwyn R.

Bevan says caustically: "Of course if one writes an imaginary description of the Orphic mysteries, as Loisy, for instance, does, filling in the large gaps in the picture left by our data from the Christian eucharist, one produces something very impressive. On this plan, you first put in the Christian elements, and then are staggered to find them there."2

It goes without saying that alleged parallels which are discovered by pursuing such methodology evaporate when they are confronted with the original texts. In a word, one must beware of what have been called "parallels made plausible by selective description."

(B) Even when the parallels are actual and not imaginary, their significance for purposes of comparison will depend upon whether they are genealogical and not merely analogical parallels.3 That is to say, one must inquire whether the similarities have arisen from more or less equal religious experience, due to equality of what may be called psychic pitch and equality of outward conditions, or whether they are due to borrowing one from the other. Interesting

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[Footnotes, pg. 9]

1 A. Schweitzer. Geschichte der Paulinischen Forschung (Tubingen, 1911), pp. 151f. (Eng. trans., Paul and his Interpreters [London, 1912], pp. 192f.). In a similar vein F. C. Conybeare refers to "the untrained explorers [who] discover on almost every page connections in their subject matter where there are and can be none, and as regularly miss connections where they exist" (The Historical Christ [London, 1914], p. vii). For a critique of the supposed influence of the Iranian Primeval-Man and Redeemer mythology on Johannine theology, see Carsten Colpe, Die religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Darstellung und Kritik ihres Bildes vom gnostischen Erlosermythus (Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Nenen Testaments, Lxxviii; Cottingen, 1961).

2. Edwyn R. Bevan, in the symposium, The History of Christianity in the Light of Modern Knowledge (Glasgow, 1929), p. 105; reprinted by Thomas S. Kepler, Contemporary Thinking about Paul, An Anthology (New York, [940). p. 43.

3. For this distinction, see Adolf Deissmann, Licht vom Osten, 4te Aufl. (Tubingen, 1923), pp. 226ff. (Eng. trans., Light from the Ancient East [New York, 19271. pp. 265ff.).

 


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as the parallels are which Sir James G. Frazer collected from the four corners of the earth in his monumental work, The Golden Bough, by no means all of them are to be regarded as the result of demonstrable borrowing. In seeking connections it is not enough (as F. C. Conybeare pointed out) "for one agent or institution or belief merely to remind us of another. Before we assert literary or traditional connection between similar elements in story and myth, we must satisfy ourselves that such communication was possible."1

It is a fact that in various spheres close similarities even in phraseology have been discovered which are related to each other by nothing more direct than analogy. For example, in a letter published in The (London) Times at the end of July, 1938, the late Professor Harold Temperley pointed out two quite remarkable parallels between speeches made by Canning in 1823 and 1826 and their modem couterparts in Neville Chamberlain’s utterances on July 26, 1938. In a subsequent letter, the Prime Minister disclaimed having previously read either of Canning’s speeches, and concluded that the parallels "indicate simply the continuity of English thought in somewhat similar circumstances, even after an interval of more than a hundred years."2 Or, to take an example from ancient times, a close parallel to the docetism expressed in the apocryphal Acts of John has been discovered in Ovid’s Fasti.3 It would be vain, however, to imagine that Greek Christian writers were indebted to Ovid for their docetic interpretation of Christ’s sufferings. So too, as Toynbee points out in his Study of History,4 the uniformity of human

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[Footnotes, pg. 10]

1. Conybeare, op. cit., p. viii.

2 The text of the two letters is given by E. G. Selwyn in the introduction of his commentary on The First Epistle of St. Peter (London, 1949), pp. 8f.

3. The parallel is discussed by R. L. P. Milburn in Journal of Theotogical Studies, XLVI (1945), 68f.

4. Arnold J. Toynbee. A Study of History, vi (Oxford. 1939). 276ff., and 376-539. On anthropological and cultural parallels in general, see M. P. Nilsson in Gercke-.Norden’s Einleitung in die Altertumswissenschaft, 4te Aufl., ii, iv (Leipzig, 1933), 58ff.; H. J. Rose, Concerning Parallels (Frazer Lecture, 1934) (Oxford. 1934); and A. D. Nock in Gnomon, xv (1939), 18f., and in American Journal of Philology, LXV (1944), 99ff. In a celebrated Inaugural Lecture at Oxford Prof. R. C. Zaehner reminded his hearers of the considerable difference in substance there may be in religious teachings (like the doctrines of release or incarnation in various religions) which may appear superficially very similar (Foolishness to the Greeks [Oxford, 1953), pp. 14ff.). For a needed warning against extravagant and exaggerated deductions from literary parallels, see Samuel Sandmel’s comments entitled "Parallelomania," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXI (1962), 1-13. For several most curious historical parallels between St. John Colombini, The founder of the Order of

 


Pg. 11

nature sometimes produces strikingly similar results in similar situations where there can be no suspicion of any historical bridge by which the tradition could have been mediated from one culture to the other.1

(C) Even when parallels are genealogical, it must not be uncritically assumed that the Mysteries always influenced Christianity, for it is not only possible but probable that in certain cases the influence moved in the opposite direction. In what T. R. Glover aptly called "the conflict of religions in the Early Roman Empire," it was to be expected that the hierophants of cults which were beginning to lose devotees to the growing Church should take steps to stem the tide. One of the surest ways would be to imitate the teaching of the Church by offering benefits comparable with those held out by Christianity. Thus, for example, one must doubtless interpret the change in the efficacy attributed to the rite of the taurobolium. In competing with Christianity, which promised eternal life to its adherents, the cult of Cybele officially or unofficially raised the efficacy of the blood bath from twenty years to eternity.2

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[Notes actually continue from pg. 10]

the Jesuates, and Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, see Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft (New York, 1953), pp. 223f.

1. The two facts that all human beings eat and that most of them seek companionship with one another and with their god account for a large percentage of similarities among the examples from around the world gathered by Fritz Bammel in his interesting study of Das heilige MahI im Glauben der Volker. Eiue religionsphanomenologische Untersuchung (Gutersloh, 1950). For a discussion of certain parallels between the Osiris cult and Christianity, where "any theory of borrowing on the part of Christianity from the older faith is not to be entertained, for not only can it not be substantiated on the extant evidence, but it is also intrinsically most improbable." see S. G. F. Brandon. "The Ritual Perpetuation of the Past," Numen, vi (1959), 122-129 (quotation is from p. 128).

2. So, e.g., Hugo Hepding, Attis. seine Mythen und sein Kult (Giessen. 1903), p. 200, note 7, and Rahner, Eranos-Jahrbuch, xi (1944), 397f.; cf. also P. Lambrechts, Aspecten van het onsterfelijkheidsgeloof in de Oudheid, in Handelingen der Zuidnederlands Maatschappii voor Taal- en Letterhunde en Geschicdenis, x (1956), 13-49. On the other hand, Moore thinks that "in aeternam renatus represents rather the enthusiastic hopes of the devotee than any dogma" (op. cit., p. 363), and Nilsson regards the phrase as reflecting "a heightening which was easy to make in an age when so many spoke of eternity" (Geschichte der griechischen Religion, ii [Munchen, 1950], 626; 2te Aufl. [1961], p. 653); but they have apparently forgotten that Augustine tells of having known a priest of Cybele who kept saying, "Et ipse Pilleatus christianus est" ("and even the god with the Phrygian cap [i.e. Attis] is a Christian"), In loannis evangelium tractatus, vii, i, 6 (Migne, Patrologia Latina, xxxv, 1440). The imitation of the Church is plain in the pagan reforms attempted by the Emperor Julian, a devoted adherent to the cult of Cybele.

 


Pg. 12

VI. Finally, in arriving at a just estimate of the relation of the Mysteries to Christianity as reflected in the New Testament, attention must be given to their differences as well as resemblances. These differences pertain both to language and ideas.

(A) It is instructive to consider what words are missing from the vocabulary of the earliest Christian writers. Many ordinary, everyday words of contemporary pagan religions are conspicuous by their absence from the New Testament; words such as mustes, mustikos, mustagogos, or the religious terms katharmos, katharsia, katharsis. Christians are never called hiepoi, nor are hieron and naos ever used of their place of meeting. One seeks in vain for telein in the sense "to initiate" and its compounds, telos in the same sense, as well as telete,1 atelestos, and such common words in the Mysteries as hierophantes, orgia, katochos, entheos, enthousiazein and its correlates, which, as Nock says, "might so well have been used to describe possession by the Spirit." The important point to observe, as Nock continues, is that "these are not recondite words; they belonged to the everyday language of religion and to the normal stock of metaphors. It almost seems that there was a deliberate avoidance of them as having associations which were deprecated. Certainly there is no indication of an appropriation of pagan religious terms."2

The few words which are common to the New Testament and the texts of the Mysteries either are so infrequent in the New Testament as to be inconclusive in establishing religious affinities (e.g., muein, embateuein, epoptes, each of which appears only once), or have an entirely different meaning in the two corpora of sources (e.g., musterion).3

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[Footnotes, pg. 12]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 11]

In general see Carl Clemen, Der Einfluss des Christentums auf andere Religionen (Giessen, 1933), especially pp. 22-29. See also p. 7, note 2 above.

1. Cf. C. Zijderveld, Jr., telete. Bijdrage tot de kennis der religieuze terminologie in het Griehsch (Purmerend, 1934).

2. A. D. Nock, "The Vocabulary of the New Testament," Journal of Biblical Literature, LII (1933), 134. who cites still other words common in popular religions but absent from the New Testament. See also Nock, "Hellenistic Mysteries and Christian Sacraments," Mnemosyne, 4th Ser., v (1952), 177-213. esp. 200, "Any idea that what we call the Christian sacraments were in their origin indebted to pagan mysteries or even to the metaphorical concepts based upon them. shatters on the rock of linguistic evidence" (reprinted in Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellanistic Background [New York, 1964]. p. 132).

3. See Nock, "Mysterion." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, LX (1951), 201-204, and R. E. Brown, "The Semitic Background of the New Testament Mysterion," Biblica, xxxix (1958), 426-448; XL (1959), 70-87; also Catholic Biblical Quarterly, XX (1958), 417-443.

 


Pg. 13

(B) In the nature of the case a most profound difference between Christianity and the Mysteries was involved in the historical basis of the former and the mythological character of the latter. Unlike the deities of the Mysteries, who were nebulous figures of an imaginary past, the Divine Being whom the Christian worshipped as Lord was known as a real Person on earth only a short time before the earliest documents of the New Testament were written. From the earliest times the Christian creed included the affirmation that Jesus "was crucified under Pontius Pilate." On the other hand, Plutarch thinks it necessary to warn the priestess Clea against believing that "any of these tales [concerning Isis and Osiris] actually happened in the manner in which they are related."1

(C) Unlike the secretiveness of those who guarded the Mysteries, the Christians made their sacred books freely available to all.2 Even when the disciplina arcani was being elaborated in the fourth and fifth centuries (whether as a diplomatic and paedagogic technique and/or as a Christian borrowing from the Mysteries, need not be determined now),3 it was still possible to contrast the simplicity and openness of Christian rites with the secrecy of pagan Mysteries.4

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[Footnotes, pg. 13]

1. Plutarch, de Iside et Osiride, xi (Loeb Classical Library, p. 29); see also lviii, "We must not treat legend as if it were history" (op. cit., p. 139). On other differences between Christianity and the Mysteries, see E. 0. James, In the Fulness of Time (London, 1935), pp. 87f.

2. Apuleius refers to "quosdam libros litteris ignorabilibus praenotatos, partim figuris cuiuscemodi animalium concepti serinonis compendiosa verba suggerentes, partim nodosis et in modum rotae tortuosis capreolatimque condensis apicibus a curiosa profanorum lectione munita," Metamorphoses, xi, 22. On the contrary, Christians not only made available the Greek Scriptures, but prepared versions in the principal vernaculars as well. On the contrast in general, see Harnack. Bible Reading in the Early Church (London, 1912), pp. 28f. and 146f.

3. For the history of views regarding the disciplina arcani down to the beginning of the present century. see Heinrich Gravel, Die Arcandisciplin, I Theil: Geschichte und Stand der Frage, Diss. Munster (Lingen a/Ems, 1902). For more recent summaries, see A. Julicher in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopdie, v, 1175f.; L. Schindler, Altchristliche Arhandiszipin und die antiken Mysterien, Program. Tetschen (1911); E. Vacandard, "Arcane," Dictionnaire d’histoire et de geographie ecclesiastiques, III, (1924), 1497-1513; 0. Perler, "Arkandisziplio, Reallexikon fur Antike und Christentum, I (1950), 667-676; and S. Laeuchli, Mithraisan in Ostia (Evanston. 1967), pp. 93-100.

4. E.g., Pseudo-Augustine, Quaestiones veteris et novi Testamenti, cxiv, 6 (CSEL, L, 305 Souter): Hinc est unde nihil apud nos in tenebris, nihil occulte geritur. Omne enim, quod honestum scitur, publicari non timetur; illud autem, quod turpe et inhonestum est, prohibente pudore non potest poblicari. Quam ob rem pagini mysteria sua in tenebris celebrant, uel in eo prudentes.

 


Pg. 14

(D) The differences between the Christian sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist and corresponding ceremonies in the Mysteries are as profound as their similarities are superficial. Both of the Christian sacraments, in their earliest phase, were considered to be primarily dono data, namely blessings conveyed to those who by nature were unfit to participate in the new order inaugurated by the person and work of Jesus Christ.1 Pagan sacraments, on the contrary, conveyed their benefits ex opere operato by "the liberating or creating of an immortal element in the individual with a view to the hereafter, but with no effective change of the moral self for the purposes of living."2

Methodologically it is begging the question to assume that every lustral rite or communal meal in the Mysteries possessed sacramental significance. Actually it is only in Mithraism, of all the cults, that one finds evidence that washing with water was part of the ritual by which a new member was admitted to one or other of the grades in the Mithraic system.3 Similarly with respect to sacramental meals reserved for those who had been initiated into the community of devotees, there is singularly little evidence.4 Nothing is heard of sacramental meals in Orphism. The drinking of the kykeon in the rites at Eleusis,5 which has sometimes been thought to be the prototype of Paul’s teaching and practice regarding the Lord’s Supper,6 is as different as possible from the Christian Communion. The latter was the privilege of the teleioi, or fully initiated; but

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[Footnotes, pg. 14]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 13]

Erubescunt enim palam inludi; turpia enim, quae illic uice legis aguntur, nolunt manifestari, ne qui prudentes se dicunt hebetes his uiceantur, quos stultos appellant.

1. So, inter alia, I Cor. 10 and the Fourth Gospel. See Nock’s discussion of "Baptism and the Eucharist as ‘Dona Data,’" in Mnemosyne, 4th Ser., v (1952), 192-202; reprinted in Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (New York, 1964), pp. 109-145.

2. A. D. Nock, "Mystery," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, XI (1937) 274.

3. Tertullian, De baptismo, v (CSEL, xx, 204, 29ff. Reifferscheid and Wissowa). Probably because of its great expense, the taurobolium appears never to have been required for membership in the cult of Magna Mater.

4. Albrecht Dieterich’s generalization, "It is remarkable that a sacramental meal should play so large a part in the dominant cults of later antiquity" (Eine Mithrasliturgie, 3te Aufl. [Leipzig and Berlin, 1923], p. 102), exceeds all bounds of legitimate inference from the actual evidence.

5. Clement of Alexandria, Cohortatio ad gentes, ii (GCS, Clem., 1, 16, 19 Stahlin), and Arnobius, Adversus nationes, v, 26 (CSEL, iv, 197, 24 Reifferscheid).

6. So, e.g., Gardner; see p. 3, note 5 above.

 


Pg. 15

the drinking of the kykeon was a preliminary ceremony, prescribed for the candidate prior to his initiation. Furthermore, in the Eleusinian rite there was no table-fellowship, nor was the ceremony continually repeated.1

The Attis cult practiced a rite involving eating something out of the timbrel and drinking something out of the cymbal,2 but whether these actions of eating and drinking had any significance beyond that of a number of other symbolical acts involved in the initiation, is not known. Nor is there any suggestion that all the initiates participated in this ceremony as the central act of worship subsequent to their incorporation into the community—if there was a community—of devotees of Attis.

The supposition that the Samothracian Mysteries included a sacred meal rests upon an interpretation (proposed, e.g., by Dieterich3 and Hepding4) of a fragmentary inscription discovered at Tomi on the Black Sea.5 Unfortunately, however, the meaning of the inscription depends so largely upon editorial reconstruction of the missing portions that Hemberg in his magisterial treatment of the cult finds no reason even to mention the inscription.6

Mithraism alone among the Mystery cults appears to have had something which looked like the Christian Eucharist. Before the initiate there were set a piece of bread and a cup of water, over which the priest uttered a ritual formula. In such a case of obvious resemblance, the Church Fathers took note of it, ascribing it to the ingenuity of demons.7 It is fair to urge that had there been other

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[Footnotes, pg. 15]

1. Eitrem, "Eleusinia—les mysteres et l’agriculture," Symbolae osloenses, XX (1940), 140ff. See also the strictures of G. E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (Princeton, 1961), pp. 271f., against the view that the Eleusinian Mysteries involved a sacramental meal.

2. Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus, ii, 15 (GCS, Clem., 1, 13, 12 Stahlin), and Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanorum religionum, xviii, I (43, 17 Ziegler). It may be pointed out, for whatever it is worth, that Firmicus makes a point of contrasting the Christian and Phrygian rites; see also William M. Groton, The Christian Eucharist and the Pagan Cults (New York, 1914), pp. 81ff.

3. Op. cit., pp. 104f.

4. Op. cit., pp. 185f.

5. Edited by Gregor G. Tocilescu in Archaologisch-epigraphiscke Mitteilungenaus Oesterreich, vi (1882), 8f.

6. Bengt Hemberg, Die Kabiren (Uppsala, 1950).

7. Justin Martyr, Apol. I, lxvi, 4; cf. Dial., lxx, 1; and Tertullian, de Praescr., xl. On the question of the testimony of Justin concerning the elements used in the Eucharist, see A. von Harnack’s provocative monograph, Brod und Wasser die eucharistischen Elemente bei Justin (=Texte und Untersuchungen,

 


Pg. 16

parallels between the Christian sacraments and pagan rites, one should expect that contemporary Christian writers would have noticed them and given the same explanation.

The problems connected with the formation and transmission of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper are too complicated for discussion here,1 but on almost any view of this matter the Jewishness of the setting, character, and piety expressed in the rite is overwhelmingly pervasive in all the accounts of the origin of the Supper.2 Moreover, unlike what have been called the sacred meals in the cults of Eleusis and of Attis, the Christian sacrament is not a seasonal rite, but is celebrated quite independently of the time of year. Furthermore, the eucharistic elements are set apart by prayer;

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[Footnotes, pg. 16]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 15]

vii, II; 1891), 117-144, and the rebuttals by Zahn, Julicher, Veil, and, most recently, L. W. Bernard, Justin Martyr, his Life and Thought (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 177-179.

1. See, e.g., Hans Lietzmann, Messe und Herrenmahl (Tubingen, 1926), Eng. Trans. by Dorothea H. G. Reeve, Mass and the Lord’s Supper, A Study in the History of the Liturgy, fasc. 1—(Leiden, 1953—); N. P. Williams, "The Origins of the Sacraments," in Essays Catholic and Critical, ed. By E. G. Selwyn, 3rd ed. (London, 1929), pp. 367-423; August Arnold, Der Ursprung des christlichen Abendmahl im Lichte der neuesten liturgiegeschichtlichen Forschung (Freiburg, 1937); Joachim Jeremias, "The Last Supper," Journal of Theological Studies, L (1949), 1-10; A. J. B. Higgins, The Lord’s Supper in the New Testament (London, 1952); and J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. by N. Perrin (New York, 1966).

2. On the Jewish background of the Lord’s Supper, see especially Blasius Ugolini, "Dissertatio de ritibus in Coena Domini ex antiquitatibus paschalibus illustratis," in his monumental Thesaurus antiquitatum sacrarum, xvii (Venice, 1755), 1127-1188; Georg Beer’s introduction, "Zur Geschichte des Paschafestes," in his ed. of Die Mischna, II Seder, Moed, 3. Traktat, Pesachim (Giessen, 1912), pp. 1-109, especially pp. 92-109 which deal with the Lord’s Supper; Paul Billerbeck’s excursus, "Das Passamahl," in H. L. Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zun Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, iv, I (Munchen, 1928), 41-76; Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 2nd ed. (London, 1949), pp. 48ff.; and the contributions of Jeremias mentioned in the preceding footnote.

Whether the Prayer of Aseneth (otherwise called Joseph and Asenath) preserves indications of a Jewish religious meal distinct from the Passover and similar to the Lord’s Supper has no immediate bearing upon the present inquiry, for the date of this apocryphon may well be post-Christian, and in any case it is basically Jewish in its outlook. See G. D. Kilpatrick in Expository Times, LXIV (1952), 4-8, and J. Jeremias’s reply, ibid., pp. 91-92; see also R. D. Richardson’s essay in the Eng. trans. of Lietzmann, op. cit., pp. 343-347.

The resemblance between the Lord’s Supper and certain Mithraic ceremonies, which Justin Martyr explained (see p. 15, note 7 above) as due to the work of demons in anticipation of the Christian sacrament, may be regarded either as fortuitous or as the result of adaptation by Mithraic priests of an impressive rite in the Christian cultus.

 


Pg. 17

in fact, the giving of thanks is so central in the sacrament that this provides a name for the rite itself (eucharistia).1

Finally, the differences of cultic vocabulary between primitive Christianity and the Mysteries (see VI (A) above) are nowhere more obvious than in the case of baptism.2 That the antecedents of Christian baptism are to be sought in the purificatory washings mentioned in the Old Testament and in the rite of Jewish proselyte baptism, is generally acknowledged by scholars today.3

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[Footnotes, pg. 17]

1. Nock observes that although paganism expressed gratitude for blessings received, "we cannot imagine copious impromptu prayer in a pagan rite," Mnemosyne, 4th Ser., V (1952), 201; reprinted in Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (New York, 1964), p. 133. In this connection reference may be made to a third century papyrus edited by Theodor Schermann, Fruhchristliche Vorbereitungsgebete zur Taufe, in Munchener Beitrage zur Papyrusforschung, 111 (Munchen, 1917).

2. With regard to the Christian terminology of baptism, Erich Fascher concludes: "Aufs Grosse und Ganze gesehen haben die ersten Christen alsoschon durch die Wortwahl (Worter, die selten und weder in der Profangracitat noch in LXX kultisch bestimet sind) ihr Eigentumliches zurn Ausdruck gebracht," article "Taufe," Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopadie, Zweite Reihe, 8te Halbband (iv, A, ii; 1932), 2504, 12-17; for Nock’s judgment on the difference of sacramental terminology, see p. 12, note 2 above. See also the extensive analysis made by Gunter Wagner, op. cit. (see p. 3, note 2 above).

3. See, among many monographs on the subject, Konstantin Hartte, Zum semitischen Wasserkultus (vor Ausbreitung des Christentums), Diss. Tubingen (Halle, 1912); Gottfried Polster, "Der kleine Talmudtraktat uber die Proselyten," Angelos, Archiv fur neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte und Kulturkunde, II (1926), 2-38; J. Leipoldt, Die urchristliche Taufe im Lichte der Religionsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1928); J. Coppens, "Bapteme," Dictionnaire de La Bible, Suppliment, I (1928), 852 -924, especially Rapports entre les mysteres paiens et le bapteme chretien," 911-920; J. Jeremias, "Der Ursprung der Johannestaufe," Zeitschrift fur die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, xxviii (1929), 312-320; Louis Finkelstein, "The Institution of Baptism for Proselytes," Journal of Biblical Literature, LII (1933), 203-211; H. H. Rowley, "Jewish Proselyte Baptism and the Baptism of John," Hebrew Union College Annual, xv (1940), 313-334; and H.G. Marsh, The Origin and Significance of New Testament Baptism (Manchester, 1941).

Reitzenstein’s conclusions in his Die Vorgeschichte der christlichen Taufe (Leipzig and Berlin, I929), rest upon the very dubious methodology of appealing to evidence from the Mandaic literature, which dates in its present form from the seventh and eighth centuries, and is itself partly dependent on Christianity. Recent evaluations of the limited usefulness of Mandaism in accounting for elements in Christian origins include those by W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of the Gentiles (Cambridge, 1939), pp. 212-219, and C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1953), pp. 115-130. For a guide to the extensive literature on the subject, see S. A. Pallis, Essay on Mandaean Bibliography, 1560-1930 (Copenhagen and London, 1933); for more recent studies, see Kurt Rudolph, Die Mandaer, 2 vols. (Gottingen, 1960- 1961); Rudolf Macuch, "Zur Fruhgeschichte der Mandaer," Theologische Literaturzeitung, xc (1965), cols. 649-660; and Edwin M. Yamau-

 


Pg. 18

(E) The motif of a dying and rising savior-god has been frequently supposed to be related to the account of the saving efficacy of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The formal resemblance between the two, however, must not be allowed to obscure the great differences in content.

(1) In all the Mysteries which tell of a dying deity, the god dies by compulsion and not by choice, sometimes in bitterness and despair, never in a self-giving love. But according to the New Testament, God’s purpose of redeeming-love was the free divine motive for the death of Jesus, who accepted with equal freedom that motive as his own.

(2) Christianity is sui generis in its triumphant note affirming that even on the Cross Jesus exercised his kingly rule (Dominus regnat ex ligno). Contrary to this exultant mood (which has been called the gaudium crucis), the pagan devotees mourn and lament in sympathy with a god who has unfortunately suffered something imposed on him. As Nock points out, "In the Christian commemoration the only element of mourning is the thought that men have betrayed and murdered Jesus. His death is itself triumph."1

(3) In all strata of Christian testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ, "everything is made to turn upon a dated experience of a historical Person,"2 whereas nothing in the Mysteries points to any attempt to undergird belief with historical evidence of the god’s resurrection. The formulation of belief in Christ’s resurrection on the third day was fixed prior to Paul’s conversion (c. A.D. 33-36), as the choice of technical phraseology in I Cor. 15.3 indicates,3 and

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[Footnotes, pg. 18]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 17]

chi, "The Present Status of Mand~nan Studies," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, xxv (1966), 88-96.

1. A. D. Nock, "A Note on the Resurrection," in Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation, ed. A. E. J. Rawlinson (London, 1928), p. 48; reprinted in Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (New York, 1964), p. 106.

2. The phrase is Nock’s, ibid., p. 49. See also George C. Ring. S.J., "Christ’s Resurrection and the Dying and Rising Gods," Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vi (1944), 216-229, and G. Bertram, "Auferstehung (des Kultgottes)," Reallexihon fur Antike und Christentum, (Stuttgart, 1950), 919-930.

3. Of no little significance is Paul’s choice of the pair of verbs with which he begins this account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, parelabon and paredoka. These correspond exactly to _ _ _ [Web-Editor’s note: I’m unsure of the transliteration of this Hebrew word] and _ _ _ [Web-Editor’s note: same], termini technici with which Pirke Aboth, the heart of the Mishnah, opens ("Moses received the Torah from Sinai and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets," etc.). Among other monographs dealing with Paul’s tanna-like role in receiving and delivering tradition concerning Jesus, see G. Kittel, Die Probleme des palastinischen spatjudentums und das Ur-

 


Pg. 19

was proclaimed openly as part of the general apostolic kerygma from the very earliest days of the Church, as the evidence in all strata of Acts makes abundantly clear.1 Moreover, the proclamation of the Resurrection by the members of the Christian community at Jerusalem was not merely a means of confusing their opponents; it was the presupposition of their own communal life.

What shall be said of parallels to the tradition that the Resurrection of Christ took place "on the third day?" The devotees of Attis commemorated his death on March 22, the Day of Blood, and his coming to life four days later, March 25, the Feast of Joy or Hilaria. According to one account of the Egyptian cult, the death of Osiris took place on the 17th of Athyr (a month corresponding to the period from October 28 to November 26), the finding and reanimation of his body in the night of the 19th.2 When Adonis rose is not certain, but the reconstruction of a papyrus text has been thought to make the third day probable.3 

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[Footnotes, pg. 19]

christentum (Stuttgart, 1926), pp. 26f.; Adolf Schlatter, Paulus der Bote Jesu (Stuttgart, 1934), p. 320; W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London, 1948; 2nd ed., 1955), pp. 248f.; B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity (Uppsala, 1961; 2nd ed., 1964), pp. 288-323; and J. Jeremias, The Esicharistic Words of Jesus, trans. by Norman Perrin (New York, 1966), pp. 101f.

The fact that occasionally either paradidonai and tradere or paralambanein, accipere, and percipere, were used with reference to the Mysteries (for examples see Lobeck, Op. cit., 1, 39, note: Anrich, op. cit., p. 54, notes 4 and 5; Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie, pp. 53f.) cannot be supposed to throw significant light upon Paul’s usage in I Cor. 11.23 (pace Eduard Norden, Agnostos Theos [Berlin, 1953], pp. 288f.) in view of the facts that (1) no pagan example has been found which employs both verbs side by side, and (2) as a rabbi trained at Jerusalem, Paul would not only have known verbatim the phraseology embedded in Aboth, but would have frequently l~eard the pair of verbs used in the course of rabbinical debate.

1. See C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (London, 1936), and A. M. Hunter, Paul and his Predecessors, rev. ed. (London, 1961).

2. On the diversity and reticence of the several accounts of the Osiris legends, see Georges Nagel, "The ‘Mysteries’ of Osiris in Ancient Egypt," The Mysteries, Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. by Joseph Campbell (New York, 1955): "The various episodes of the legend are not attested in the same way and with the same frequency. The texts often speak of the battles of Horus and Seth for the heritage of Osiris, and often they mention the laments of Isis over her husband’s death. But with regard to the actual death and resurrection of Osiris they are always quite reticent and usually give us no more than brief allusions" (p. 123).

3. Gustave Clots, "Les fetes d’Adonis sous Ptoleme II," Revue des etudes grecques, xxxiii (1920), 169-222, especially 213. For a convincing demolition of Glotz’s reconstruction and interpretation, see pp. 230f. of Lambrechts’ study mentioned in note 2 on p. 21 below.

 


Pg. 20

In evaluating such parallels, the first thing that the historian must do is to sift the evidence. In the case of Attis, the evidence for the commemoration of the Hilaria dates from the latter part of the second Christian century.1 There are, in fact, no literary or epigraphical texts prior to the time of Antonius Pius (A.D. 138-161) which refer to Attis as the divine consort of Cybele,2 much less any that speak of his resurrection.3 With good grounds, therefore, it has been argued that the festival of the Hilaria was not introduced into the cultus of Cybele until the latter part of the second Christian century or even later.4

In the case of Osiris, after his consort Isis had sought and reassembled thirteen of the fourteen pieces into which his body had been dismembered by his wicked brother Typhon (otherwise known as Set), through the help of magic5 she was enabled to reanimate his corpse. Thereafter Osiris became "Lord of the Underworld and Ruler of the Dead," in which role he presides at the bar of judgment and assigns to the souls of the departed their proper reward for virtue

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[Footnotes, pg. 20]

1. Cf. Duncan Fishwick, "The Cannophori and the March Festival of Magna Mater," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, xcvii (1966), 193-202.

2. Certainly Catullus’ poem, Attis, provides no hint of any such depiction of Attis, even though one may not agree with Elder’s view that the poet intended to confine his attention to the psychological revulsion felt by "an ordinary man who by emasculation became a priest of Cybele" (John P. Elder, "Catallus’ Attis," American Journal of Philology, Lxviii [1947], 395).

3. Pierre Lambrechts, Attis, van herdersknaap tot God (Verhandelingen van de koninklijke Vlaamse Academic voor wetenschappen, letteren en schone kunsten van Belgie, KI. der Letteren, No. 46; Brussels, 1962), pp. 8 and 26ff.; cf. G. Wagner, op. cit. (see above p. 3, note 2), pp. 228-235 (Eng. trans., pp. 217-229). For the ambiguous and extremely limited iconographic representations of the periodic resurrection of Attis, see M. J. Vermaseren, The Legend of Attis in Greek and Roman Art (Leiden, 1966), p. 40.

4. Pierre Lambrechts, "Les fetes ‘phrygiennes’ de Cybele et d’Attis," Bulletin de l’Institut historique belge de Rome, xxvii (1952), 141-170, and "Attis a Rome," Melanges Georges Smets (Brussels, 1952), pp. 461-471. On the reform of the cult of Magna Mater under Antoninus Pius, see Jean Beaujeu, La Religion romaine a l’apogee de l’Empire; I, La Politique religieuse des Antonins (96-192) (Paris, 155), pp. 312ff., who supports his arguments with numismatic evidence. Cf. also Th. Koves, "Zum Empfang der Magna Mater in Rom," Historia, XII (1963), 321-347, who draws attention to the supplanting of the old "Roman" rites celebrated in April (the Megalesia) under the Republic by the Phrygian rites celebrated in March.

5. Johanoes Leipoldt appropriately calls attention to the feature of magical incantations as a significant difference between pagan and Christian account of the resurrection of the cult-god (" Zu den Auferstehungs-Geschichten," Theologisches Literaturzeitung, LXXIII [1948], col. 738 (= Von den Mysterien zur Kirche. Gesammelte Aufsatze (Leipzig, 1961]. pp. 200f.).

 


Pg. 21

or punishment for wrongdoing. Whether this can be rightly called a resurrection is questionable, especially since, according to Plutarch,1 it was the pious desire of devotees to be buried in the same ground where, according to local tradition, the body of Osiris was still lying.

In the case of Adonis, there is no trace of a resurrection in pictorial representations or in any texts prior to the beginning of the Christian era.2 In fact, the only four witnesses that refer to the resurrection of Adonis date from the second to the fourth century (Lucian,3 Origen,4 Jerome5 (who depends upon Origen), and Cyril of Alexandria6) and none of these mentions the triduum.

The attempt to link the Adonis and Attis cults to the worship of Tammuz and his alleged resurrection7 rests, as Kramer put it, on "nothing but inference and surmise, guess and conjecture."8 Still more remote from the rise of Christianity is the Sumerian epic involving Ianna’s descent to the Nether World.9

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[Footnotes, pg. 21]

1. Plutarch, de Iside et Osiride, 359B (20). No fewer than twenty-three locations, identified by classical authors and Greek inscriptions, claimed to be the place where Osiris’s body lay; for a list, see Theodor Hopfner, Plutarch uber Isis und Osiris; I. Teil, Die Sage (Monographien des Archiv Orientalni, IX; Prague, 1940), pp. 160f. The cult of Osiris, in fact, involved not so much a genuine "mystery" initiation, open to devotees, as a funerary service for the departed; see Georges Nagel, "Les ‘mysteres’ d’Osiris dans l’ancienne Egypte," Eranos-Jahrbuch 1944 (Band XI), Die Mysterien (Zurich, 1945), pp. 164ff.; Eng. trans., "The ‘Mysteries’ of Osiris in Ancient Egypt," The Mysteries, Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. by Joseph Campbell (Bolingelingen Series, xxx. 2; New York, 1955), pp. 132ff.; for the distinction cf. also Gustave Jequier, "Drames, mysteres, rituels dans l’ancienne Egypte," Melanges offerts a M. Niedermann ... (Neuchatel, 1944), pp. 37ff. On the question of the so-called parallels between the cult of Osiris and Christianity, see G. Bertram, "Auferstehung (des Kultgottes)," Reallexikon fur Antike und Christentum, I (1950), cols. 921f., and the quotation from Brandon, p. II above, note I.

2. See. e.g., P. Lambrechts’ survey of the evidence in his "La ‘resurrection’ d’Adonis," Melanges Isidore Levy (Annuaire de l’Institut de philologie et d’histoire orientales et slaves, xxiii [1953]; Brussels, 1955). pp. 207-240.

3. De dea Syria, vi.

4. Selecta in Ezek. (Migne, PG. xiii. 797).

5. In Ezek., viii. 3 (Migne, PL. xxv. 82).

6. In Isaiam, ii. 3 (Migne. PG, LXX. 440f.).

7. E.g., Wilfred H. Schoff, "Tammuz, Pan, and Christ," The Open Court, xxvi (1912), 513-532.

8. S. N. Kramer, ed., Mythologies of the Ancient World, p. 10. Cf. G. Wagner, op. cit. pp. 149-167 (Eng. tr., pp. 136ff.), and E. M. Yamauchi, "Tammuz and the Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXXV (1965), 283-290, and idem, "Descent of Ishtar," The Biblical World, a Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, ed. by Charics F. Pfeiffer (Grand Rapids. 1966), p. 200.

9. Contrary to W. F. Albright’s statement that in the Sumerian original of the epic of Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World the goddess "is explicitly

 


Pg. 22

There is, however, no need to go so far afield as these beliefs to account for the Christian conviction that Jesus rose the third day. It was a widely prevalent belief among the Jews that the soul of a dead man hovered near the corpse for three days, hoping to return to the body, but that on the fourth day, when decomposition set in, the soul finally departed, a belief that seems to be reflected in Martha’s comment regarding her brother Lazarus (John 11.39).1 Moreover, apart from such parallels, it might be urged that the phrase "on the third day" or "after three days" occurs so often in the Old Testament with reference to the normal interval between two events in close succession that the dating of the Resurrection "on the third day" was both appropriate and inevitable.

Apart from these considerations, however, it remains a fact that the notation of the third day is so closely intertwined within all the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as to point to the conclusion that the Christian witnesses began to experience the living presence of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion, and thereafter it was recalled that he had promised on more than one occasion that, after his death, he would in three days rise again.2

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[Footnotes, pg. 22]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 21]

said to remain three days and three nights in the underworld" (From Stone Age to Christianity, 2nd ed. [Baltimore, 1946), pp. 341f., note 81), a careful examination of the epic (conveniently edited by J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts [Princeton, 1950]. pp. 52-57) indicates that it is "after three days and three nights had passed" (line 569) that Ninshubur, perceiving that his mistress, Inanna, has not returned from the Nether World, proceeds to make the rounds of the gods, lamenting before each of them in accord with a formula which manna had previously given him. Then Father Enki devises a plan to restore the goddess to life; he fashions two sexless creatures and instructs them to proceed to the Nether World and to sprinkle the "food of life" and the "water of life" upon Inanna’s impaled body. This they do, and the goddess subsequently revives. The time of the reanimation is not disclosed, but doubtlessly the mythographer conceived it to be considerably later than the period of three days and three nights. On this point also see

F. Notscher, "Zur Auferstehung nach drel Tagen," Biblica, xxxv (1954), 353-319. Accepting a reading proposed by Adam Falkenstein (Bibliotheca Orientalis, xxii [1965], 279f.) S. N. Kramer made a correction to his earlier interpretation of Ianna’s Descent, concluding that "Dumuzi, according to Sumerian mythographers, rises from the dead annually, and after staying on earth for half a year, descends to the Nether World for the other half" ("Dumuzi’s Annual Resurrection: An Important Correction to ‘Inanna’s Descent,’" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 183 [Oct. 1966], p. 31).

1. Among many discussions of this belief, see especially Emil Freistedt, Altchristliche Totengedachtnistage und ihre Beziehung zum Jenseitsglauben und Totenhultus der Antike (Munster, 1928), pp. 53ff.

2. For an interesting suggestion why Jesus emphasized the importance of

 


Pg. 23

(4) Finally, Christianity and the Mystery cults differ in what may be called their views regarding the philosophy of history.

(a) It is generally acknowledged that the rites of the Mysteries, which commemorate a dying and rising deity, represent the cyclical recurrence of the seasons. In other words, such myths are the expression of ancient nature-symbolism; the spirit of vegetation dies every year and rises every year. According to popular expectation, the world-process will be indefinitely repeated, being a circular movement leading nowhere. For the Christian, on the other hand, as heir to the Hebraic view of history, the time-process comprises a series of unique events, and the most significant of these events was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike the recurrent death and reanimation of the cultic deities symbolizing the cycle of nature, for the Christians the importance of Jesus’ work was related just to this "once-for-all" character of his death and resurrection.1

(b) In another respect besides that of repetition, the Mysteries differ from Christianity’s interpretation of history. The speculative myths of the cults lack entirely that reference to the spiritual and moral meaning of history which is inextricably involved in the experiences and triumph of Jesus Christ. In fact, not until the fourth century, when doubtless this stark contrast between the two became increasingly apparent to thoughtful pagans, is there any indication of an attempt to read moral values into certain cultic myths.2

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[Footnotes, pg. 23]

[Notes actually continue from pg. 22]

the third day after his death, see Sir Edwyn Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, 2nd ed. (London, 1947), pp. 199-200. Hoskyns points out that, according to customs of hospitality prevailing in the East, three days constitute a temporary habitation, and the fourth day implies permanent residence. When therefore, in accord with Hosea’s promise that the Lord had not permanently humiliated his people but would raise them up on the third day (Hosea 6.2), "it is said in the Gospels that Jesus emphasized the importance of the third day after His death, what is meant is that He assured to His disciples that death could not permanently engulf Him ... He would be but a visitor to the dead, not a permanent resident in their midst" (p. 200).

1. It must not be supposed that the recurring annual festival of Easter belies what has just been said regarding the particularity of the Christian message. It has been proved that the celebration of Easter did not arise at once out of belief in the Resurrection, but developed later by gradual stages out of the Jewish Passover; see E. Schwartz, "Osterbetrachtungen," Zeitschrift fur neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, VII (1906), 1-33.

2. Notably into the cult of Attis by Iamnblichus (died AD. 330), as reported by Julian, Oration v, and by Sallustius, Concerning the Gods and the Universe, iv.

 


Pg. 24

The main purpose of the foregoing study has been to deal with problems of methodology and to raise questions regarding the correctness of certain assumptions which, in some circles, are generally accepted as valid. Lest the argument concerning methodology be merely theoretical, the discussion has necessarily involved certain beliefs and doctrines, but these, so far from being exhaustive, are to be regarded only as selected examples. If any conclusions can be drawn from the preceding considerations of methodology, they must doubtless be, first, that the evidence requires that the investigator maintain a high degree of caution in evaluating the relation between the Mysteries and early Christianity; and, second, that the central doctrines and rites of the primitive Church appear to lack genetic continuity with those of antecedent and contemporary pagan cults.

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ITW extends appreciation to Bruce Metzger for allowing his definitive work to be made available on the Web for researchers and the general public. If you are interested in other works by Metzger, his books can be sought out through these two links https://www.christianbook.com or www.amazon.com .

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END                    Posted: 07/14/03