Unfortunately, there’s just way too much to do today (and for the next few days…and months, as it happens!), so I will only have time for this brief post today. I may elaborate on one point below, but otherwise this will just be news briefs (rather than “news boxers”?!?–thank all the gods for that!). So, without further ado…
I’ve written before on how much I like Sikhs, even though they are monotheists; in fact, that post I just linked to is one of the most popular ones in my “Eight Things I Love About” series. (I should really do another installment of that at some point, probably…) I’m infuriated by the amount of anti-Sikh discrimination and violence in the U.S., however, that all results from American stupidity and ignorance over the nature of different world religions, as well as just out-and-out racism and xenophobia. So, while I was shocked and appalled at how a Sikh man was treated in Mississippi recently, I’m also, sadly, unsurprised. I think the police and the judge involved should be ridden on a rail, personally.
Second, courtesy of Sannion, a link to the online version of Richard S. Ascough, Philip A. Harland, and John S. Kloppenborg’s Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook (Waco / Berlin: Baylor University Press / de Gruyter, 2012), which is an important and indispensible resource. I have not had the chance to look much at it yet, but I’m looking forward to digging my teeth into it in the near future! Thanks for that, Sannion!
Next, courtesy of Lupa, an article from Archaeology about an ancient Bronze Age culture that had wolf rituals in winter. Of course, this tallies with many rituals and practices that have to do with werewolves as well in later Indo-European cultures, so this is very exciting information indeed! Many thanks, Lupa!
And finally, as much as I love Stephen Fry (he’s on the top of my list of “People I Wish Weren’t Atheists”!), and the show Q.I., I have to say that the beginning of the following episode, though enjoyable, is very much wrong about Mithras in a variety of ways.
You should watch the whole thing, with Rich Hall (who is hilarious on this show, though I’ve never found him particularly so in anything American), Dara Ó Briain (one of my favorite Irish comedians!), Jo Brand, and Alan Davies, certainly…
But, on the specific points where it’s “not correct” on Mithras (who was not a Roman god in origin, needless to say!) and his comparability to Jesus, briefly:
1) Mithras was a savior sent to earth to live as a mortal: many deities (and humans!) are called Soter, of course, so that’s not unusual; but, we have no actual myths of Mithras which indicate that he was “incarnate” as a mortal like Jesus was.
2) Mithras died for our sins and through him it was possible for sinners to be reborn into immortal life: uh, no. Sin and redemption don’t really seem to have anything to do with Mithras or Mithraism as it is currently known to us.
3) He was resurrected on a Sunday: again, nothing in extant literature or archaeology indicates this at all.
4) He was born of a virgin: Mithras was actually born of the earth, and the “rock birth” is a major part of his iconography. Whether the earth was a specific goddess, or just some lucky patch of earth, though, is not exactly known; and since when is the earth a virgin?
5) He was born on December 25th: Nope–Sol Invictus’ birth was placed there as of the mid-third century CE, but Mithras being “the same as” Sol Invictus is a poor understanding of syncretism.
6) He was born in a cave or a manger: Again, no evidence for the latter in particular; and the former, only if one understands that Mithras’ rock birth then left some hollow in the ground from which he emerged, which is not the same thing as being born in a cave.
7) His birth was attended by shepherds: I’ve never seen a rock birth icon that indicated shepherds’ presence at all.
8) He was known as the “light of the world”: not that I’m aware of does he receive that epithet.
9) He had twelve disciples: Mithras is often shown amidst the twelve signs of the zodiac, but that would mean that he has at least 14 “disciples,” since Pisces is two fish and Gemini is two boys. So, no, that’s a real stretch on the existing evidence.
10) He shared a last meal with his disciples, and they symbolically re-enacted eating his flesh and blood: He is shown sharing a meal with other gods in some iconography, but whether it was his “last” or not remainds to be seen; and the feasting that the Mithraists did was not of Mithras’ flesh and blood (nor of the Bull’s, as Mithras’ slaying of the Bull was a one-time cosmic event that it would have been considered sacrilege to re-enact).
11) Mithras was a sun-god worshipped on Sundays: He is syncretized to Sol Invictus on some occasions, but if anything he’s the god of the “dark sun” or hyper-cosmic sun, and not the visible sun. We have no evidence that Mithraic rituals were held on Sundays with any regularity.
12) Mithras is often depicted with a halo: Not so much; that’s how you tell Sol Invictus from Mithras in their iconography, as Mithras usually has a Phrygian cap.
13) Mithraists gave each other gifts on December 25th: For the Saturnalia (which Stephen Fry shut down Dara O Briain on earlier in the episode), gifts were given, but on December 23rd, the Sigillaria. There is no evidence to indicate Mithraists would have had gift-exchanges on the 25th.
14) The leader of Mithraism was called a “Papa“: In the “stages of initiation” mosaic that exists at only one Mithraeum, the highest grade of initiation is called Pater, which is different from papa in various ways…and, whether such a person was the “leader of the religion” or only the leader of the local Mithraeum, and whether or not that system of initiations was universal to all Mithraea, is not at all certain.
15) Their H.Q. was on Vatican Hill in Rome: Most assuredly not! There are over 250 known Mithraea in the Mediterranean/European world, and there is no indication that any of them were centralized into an authority that acknowledged Rome at all. There is no hard evidence that there ever was a Mithraeum on Vatican Hill, though there were several in Rome. There is some obvious confusion on this point and the previous one with the cultus of Magna Mater and Attis of the Galli.
And, note well: no mention of the Bull whatsoever…!
Fry goes on to say that this research was published in 1903, which is part of the reason why so much of it is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!, and he also says that many Christians “claim it’s nonsense.” Unfortunately, those Christians are right, not because Mithraism is nonsense, but because these particular claims of similarity are not factually correct. It’s interesting how often atheists (including Bill Maher) use this research, and other Zeitgeist-derived similar poor understandings of comparative myth, to argue that all of these polytheistic deities are nonsense, and thus Christianity and its myths which plagiarized from them wholesale on many points is likewise nonsense. Sorry, guys–do better (and more recent!) research in the future! I’d recommend starting with Manfred Clauss’ The Roman Cult of Mithras, which will set you straight on most of these matters.
And, sadly, he goes on to say as well that the date of Christmas was decided 400 to 600 years after the (ostensible) life of Jesus, which is also not true: by the late 2nd century CE, the conception of Jesus/the Annunciation was being celebrated on March 25th, as recorded by Tertullian, which means that his birth would have logically been on December 25th. So, as much as we’d like to point to some of these Christian matters being “made up” or appropriated or plagiarized, some of it happens earlier than we’d like to think, with hard facts to back it up, and we should not be afraid to confront those things even as we are critical of Christianity itself.
And, I believe that’s all for me today. More tomorrow evening, with any luck…