Did Christianity Steal From Mithraism?
Christianity is a direct copy of the Mithraic religion that was 200 years its predecessor. You can look in up in the Encyclopedia of World Religions. Mithra died for the sins of humanity, had 12 apostles, a last supper and most of the other tenets that Christianity copied. Also, read Who Wrote the Bible. You must already know that there are over 200 direct contradictions in the New Testament alone. Please don't believe a religion just because it is commonly accepted without being researched.
The subject of Mithra has given my faith a real test because if this mythical being was given all the traits that are generally given to Jesus and if this myth was written in the 6th century BC, where does that leave us? HELP!
I'm really loosing faith in the reliability of Christianity because, of my recent studies on Zoroastrianism. If you could help me out in any way it would be greatly appreciated.
I'd like to first thank everyone for writing and seeking to find answers for what seems to be a threat upon the truth claims of Christianity. I'd like to start by summarizing what Mithraism is and why people will use it as an objection to the validity of Christianity. We will then study the claims of the skeptics and see if they stand up to scrutiny.
Mithraism is a religion that has its roots in the Hindu Vedas. It developed an independent following in Persia about five hundred years before Christ and further developed in Zarathustra's (Zoroaster's) movement which occurred about 200 years before Christ. It had its zenith in ancient Rome about the third century, during the same period Christianity was quickly growing in popularity.
As Randy has asserted, some believe that Mithraism share many of the same features as Christianity, such as a vicarious atonement, a form of bread and wine as a sacrament, 12 apostles and so on. If such assertions are true, then it would be easy to infer that Christianity borrowed much from Mithraism since Mithraism is quite a bit older.
Please note that this inference would not be a direct proof - just because two things correspond it does not prove that one developed directly from the other. However, when we examine Mithraism more closely, we see quite clearly the similarities between it and Christianity are not nearly as convincing as some would have us believe.
As I stated in the introduction, the earliest references to Mithra come from the ancient Hindu literature. However, just what people believed about him at that time is unknown. J.P. Arendzen writes, "The origin of the cult of Mithra dates from the time that the Hindus and Persians still formed one people, for the god Mithra occurs in the religion and the sacred books of both races, i.e. in the Vedas and in the Avesta. In Vedic hymns he is frequently mentioned and is nearly always coupled with Varuna, but beyond the bare occurrence of his name, little is known of him (Rigveda, III, 59)."1
Mithraism is an example of a "mystery religion" that flourished in the near east at that time. David Ulansey explains it is called such because " ..like the other ancient 'mystery religions,' such as the Eleusinian mysteries and the mysteries of Isis, the Mithraic cult maintained strict secrecy about its teachings and practices, revealing them only to initiates. As a result, reconstructing the beliefs of the Mithraic devotees has posed an enormously intriguing challenge to scholarly ingenuity..."
"Owing to the cult's secrecy, we possess almost no literary evidence about the beliefs of Mithraism. The few texts that do refer to the cult come not from Mithraic devotees themselves, but rather from outsiders such as early Church fathers, who mentioned Mithraism in order to attack it, and Platonic philosophers, who attempted to find support in Mithraic symbolism for their own philosophical ideas."2
Because of the lack of textual evidence for early Mithraism, there is no way to positively assert that the ideas that seem to correspond to Christianity were ever taught prior to the second century A.D. after all of the Christian texts that make up the New Testament had been in wide-spread circulation. In fact, most scholars take a dim view of that idea. Dr. Edwin Yamauchi dismisses this hypothesis in stating "Those who seek to adduce Mithra as a prototype of the risen Christ ignore the late date for the expansion of Mithraism to the west (cf. M. J. Vermaseren, Mithras, The Secret God, 1963, p. 76)."3
In fact, Mithraism seems to change drastically from its Persian roots when it becomes a Roman cult. Romans adapted the military cult into something much more comfortable and understandable for their form of worship. Scholars Beard, North and Price agree stating, "The form of the cult most familiar to us, the initiatory cult, does not seem to derive from Persia at all. It is found first in the west, has no significant resemblance to its supposed Persian 'origins', and seems largely to be a western construct." 4
CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE ON MITHRAISM
Because of the above evidence, we must dismiss the claims that
Christianity borrowed from Mithraism in order to codify its own set of
beliefs. The ancient form of Mithraism would not have looked anything like
Christianity. It in fact was a very pagan form of worship. Ronald Nash
"Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth - at least during its early stages.... During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook.... Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians."5
Nash goes on to assert that instead of Christianity borrowing form Mithraism, it was the other way around. Mithraism tried to make its pagan rituals look and feel more Christian.
"The taurobolium was a bloody rite associated with the worship of Mithra and of Attis in which a bull was slaughtered on 'a grating over an initiate in a pit below, drenching him with blood. This has been suggested (e.g., by R. Reitzenstein) as the basis of the Christian's redemption by blood and Paul's imagery in Romans 6 of the believer's death and resurrection. Gunter Wagner in his exhaustive study Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries ( 1963) points out how anachronistic such comparisons are: The taurobolium in the Attis cult is first attested in the time of Antoninus Pius for A.D. 160. As far as we can see at present it only became a personal consecration at the beginning of the third century A.D. The idea of a rebirth through the instrumentality of the taurobolium only emerges in isolated instances towards the end of the fourth century A.D.; it is not originally associated with this blood-bath [p. 266].Indeed, there is inscriptional evidence from the fourth century A.D. that, far from influencing Christianity, those who used the taurobolium were influenced by Christianity."6
When studying the ancient Mithraism, the one that came before western influence, we see that it reads much more like other ancient myths rather than early Christianity. Norman Geisler summarizes this by saying "We do know that Mithraism, like its mystery competitors, had a basic myth. Mithra was supposedly born when he emerged from a rock; he was carrying a knife and torch and wearing a phrygian cap. He battled first with the sun and then the primeval bull, which then became the ground of life for the human race."7 In comparison, Geisler points out that "the foundation stones of Christianity are patently taken from the Old Testament, Judaism generally, and the life of a historical figure named Jesus."8
Given all the evidence, the claims that Christianity somehow borrowed from Mithraic beliefs is shown to be unsupported by fact. Many scholars now believe that it is Christianity's increasing popularity that caused a late form of Mithraism to change in order to sound more mainstream. However, at its core, Mithraism remains a pagan form of worship based on a superstitious and primitive worldview.
I hope this discussion has helped clarify how some of these "mystery faiths" aren't really as damaging to Christianity as they appear. If I've left anything fuzzy, please feel free to write. Also, for more on this topic, see my article entitled "Is the Bible Plagiarized From Other Religions?"
May God bless each of you in your search for the truth.
3 - Yamauchi, Edwin M. . "Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History?." March 29, 1974. http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html.
4 - Beard, Mary, John North and Simon Price. Religions of Rome Volume I.
Cambridge university Press. New York NY. 1998 p.279
5 - Yamauchi, loc cit.
6 - Nash, Ronald. Mystery Religions of the Near East as quoted in "Mithraism." Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. 1999
8 - Geisler, Norman. "Mithraism." Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. 1999