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Author Topic: Pagan origins of Christianity?  (Read 3131 times)

EclecticWheel

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Pagan origins of Christianity?
« on: March 22, 2016, 12:25:58 pm »
It's been a while since I've visited the topic, but the last time I researched anything about this I was under the impression that the notion that major events in Jesus' life (such as the virgin birth, resurrection, and so on) was copied from pagan gods was a stretch at best and in many cases simply false.  I've been reading a book on antisemitism in the New Testament which generally has good information, but there were some claims that Christianity's sacraments and the deity-like aspects of Jesus' life came from Greek mystery religions.  I'm trying to verify if that is true or not.

I had some conversation with others online about this topic and was generally unsatisfied with it (seemed like they had an ax to grind whereas I'm genuinely interested in this topic), but they gave me this article.  I'm sort of skeptical as to the quality of the website I was linked to, but wanted to offer it here for anyone who might be interested in it and can give me a more informed opinion on how much truth there is in all this stuff or perhaps direct me to a better more verifiable source.

http://www.earlychristianhistory.info/mystrel.html
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RecycledBenedict

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2016, 02:39:46 pm »
Quote from: EclecticWheel;188700
I had some conversation with others online about this topic and was generally unsatisfied with it (seemed like they had an ax to grind whereas I'm genuinely interested in this topic), but they gave me this article.


That Christianity is one of the Hellenist mystery religions is not a controversial claim. That doesn't mean that it is a copy of pagan religions. Samuel Angus wrote The Mystery Religions and Christianity in 1925. Scholarly research has evolved considerably since that, and it is better to read a book about the subject written in the last 20-30 years.

There are some factual errors on the website:

  • The website mention a 'resurrection' of Osiris, but in Egyptian myth Osiris stayed dead in the Afterlife as a judge.
  • The website seem to present myths about the resurrection of Adonis and Attis as pre-Christian, but the Attis celebration Hilaria wasn't instituted until the 140s or 150s CE, and the Adonis resurrection myth is not known before Lukianos in the mid 2nd century. I wish you a good Attis Week, by the way!
  • The website mentions Cilician worship of Mithra (notice spelling) in the century BCE, and then jumps to the conclusion that such worship was identical to the Roman mystery religion centred around Mithras (notice spelling). The Roman Mithraic mystery religion is not attested before c. 80 or 90 CE, when Christianity had existed for 50-60 years. Read Manfred Clauss for all the details.
Since Christianity began as a slightly odd Messianic cult within Judaism, it is probably better to look for the origin of the sacraments within Judaism: At Jewish Passover, a solemn meal - Seder - is eaten, and each week the Shabat begins with a supper in Friday evening. There is no reason to look anywhere else for the origin of the Eucharist. Likewise, at the time of early Christianity Judaism was quite diverse, and several types of ritual baths were performed: Among the Essenes, within the Qumran sect and among the disciples of John the Baptist. In rabbinical Judaism something called mikveh has survived. The Christian baptism is just one of these different types of ritual baths - or at least began in that way.

I always wonder, when this topic is brought up, why those, who try to write sensationalist articles about this subject, ignore those elements of Christianity that do have a Pagan origin, like these:

  • Epiphany aka Twelfthnight was invented by non-mainstream Christians in Egypt abt 120 CE, and adopted by Proto-Orthodox Christians just half a century later. It is celebrated on the same date as The Birth of Aion, a Helleno-Egyptian pagan festival attested in the century BCE.
  • Pagan Romans celebrated the birthday or dedication day of each particular temple building. Most Christians celebrate dedication festivals for their buildings, and the custom is known since antiquity.
  • At least two of the Ember weeks most probably emerged in order to replace pagan Roman agricultural festivals.
  • The west-Christian custom to pray a litany, walking around fields, in order to bless the crops on 25th of Apil, coincides with a pagan Roman festival against mildew.

EclecticWheel

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2016, 04:32:00 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;188701
That Christianity is one of the Hellenist mystery religions is not a controversial claim. That doesn't mean that it is a copy of pagan religions. Samuel Angus wrote The Mystery Religions and Christianity in 1925. Scholarly research has evolved considerably since that, and it is better to read a book about the subject written in the last 20-30 years.

There are some factual errors on the website:

  • The website mention a 'resurrection' of Osiris, but in Egyptian myth Osiris stayed dead in the Afterlife as a judge.
  • The website seem to present myths about the resurrection of Adonis and Attis as pre-Christian, but the Attis celebration Hilaria wasn't instituted until the 140s or 150s CE, and the Adonis resurrection myth is not known before Lukianos in the mid 2nd century. I wish you a good Attis Week, by the way!
  • The website mentions Cilician worship of Mithra (notice spelling) in the century BCE, and then jumps to the conclusion that such worship was identical to the Roman mystery religion centred around Mithras (notice spelling). The Roman Mithraic mystery religion is not attested before c. 80 or 90 CE, when Christianity had existed for 50-60 years. Read Manfred Clauss for all the details.
Since Christianity began as a slightly odd Messianic cult within Judaism, it is probably better to look for the origin of the sacraments within Judaism: At Jewish Passover, a solemn meal - Seder - is eaten, and each week the Shabat begins with a supper in Friday evening. There is no reason to look anywhere else for the origin of the Eucharist. Likewise, at the time of early Christianity Judaism was quite diverse, and several types of ritual baths were performed: Among the Essenes, within the Qumran sect and among the disciples of John the Baptist. In rabbinical Judaism something called mikveh has survived. The Christian baptism is just one of these different types of ritual baths - or at least began in that way.

I always wonder, when this topic is brought up, why those, who try to write sensationalist articles about this subject, ignore those elements of Christianity that do have a Pagan origin, like these:

  • Epiphany aka Twelfthnight was invented by non-mainstream Christians in Egypt abt 120 CE, and adopted by Proto-Orthodox Christians just half a century later. It is celebrated on the same date as The Birth of Aion, a Helleno-Egyptian pagan festival attested in the century BCE.
  • Pagan Romans celebrated the birthday or dedication day of each particular temple building. Most Christians celebrate dedication festivals for their buildings, and the custom is known since antiquity.
  • At least two of the Ember weeks most probably emerged in order to replace pagan Roman agricultural festivals.
  • The west-Christian custom to pray a litany, walking around fields, in order to bless the crops on 25th of Apil, coincides with a pagan Roman festival against mildew.

Thank you very much.  I'll be sure to research this now, but can you give me an idea of why Christianity can be classified as a Hellenist mystery religion?  Does it have to do with the deity-like aspects of Jesus' life and incorporating them into one's own through sacraments and other such means?
« Last Edit: March 22, 2016, 04:36:14 pm by EclecticWheel »
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jverdant

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2016, 04:13:38 pm »
Quote from: EclecticWheel;188706
Thank you very much.  I'll be sure to research this now, but can you give me an idea of why Christianity can be classified as a Hellenist mystery religion?  Does it have to do with the deity-like aspects of Jesus' life and incorporating them into one's own through sacraments and other such means?

 
Sorry to resurrect an older post (no pun intended!), but this article might be interesting for you:

http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_corn_king.htm

Anisaer

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2016, 06:24:03 pm »
Quote from: EclecticWheel;188700
It's been a while since I've visited the topic, but the last time I researched anything about this I was under the impression that the notion that major events in Jesus' life (such as the virgin birth, resurrection, and so on) was copied from pagan gods was a stretch at best and in many cases simply false.  I've been reading a book on antisemitism in the New Testament which generally has good information, but there were some claims that Christianity's sacraments and the deity-like aspects of Jesus' life came from Greek mystery religions.  I'm trying to verify if that is true or not.

I had some conversation with others online about this topic and was generally unsatisfied with it (seemed like they had an ax to grind whereas I'm genuinely interested in this topic), but they gave me this article.  I'm sort of skeptical as to the quality of the website I was linked to, but wanted to offer it here for anyone who might be interested in it and can give me a more informed opinion on how much truth there is in all this stuff or perhaps direct me to a better more verifiable source.

http://www.earlychristianhistory.info/mystrel.html

 
You might find the works of Joseph Campbell interesting, as well as A History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. Both discuss the origins and similarities of mythology and legends around the world.

HarpingHawke

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2016, 06:35:12 pm »
Quote from: Anisaer;191843
You might find the works of Joseph Campbell interesting, as well as A History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. Both discuss the origins and similarities of mythology and legends around the world.

 
Campbell is a bit...dodgy.
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Anisaer

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2016, 06:57:49 pm »
Quote from: HarpingHawke;191845
Campbell is a bit...dodgy.

 
Yes, I'm aware that some of his material is older and has been refuted, as well as his archetypal view of myth being potentially problematic from a hard polytheist perspective. I would still submit that his work, being notable in modern comparative mythology, is worth reading with a critical eye.

HarpingHawke

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2016, 07:13:32 pm »
Quote from: Anisaer;191847
I would still submit that his work, being notable in modern comparative mythology, is worth reading with a critical eye.

 
That is true, yes. IMO, almost everything is worth reading with a critical eye.

Not many people know about Campbell's dodginess, though. I suppose, in hindsight, that link was more for "the lurkers" than you.
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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2016, 07:32:18 pm »
Quote from: Anisaer;191847
Yes, I'm aware that some of his material is older and has been refuted, as well as his archetypal view of myth being potentially problematic from a hard polytheist perspective. I would still submit that his work, being notable in modern comparative mythology, is worth reading with a critical eye.

 
I actually think it's best to have a solid foundation in the basic mythology of at least three religions before diving into archetypal comparative religion - enough so that you're aware of the differences between, say, Tyr and Zeus and Indra, and can see how oversimplifying comparative religion is. Then you can take the pattern-matching from Campbell and apply it critically when trying to fill in holes elsewhere.
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Anisaer

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2016, 09:26:34 pm »
Quote from: HarpingHawke;191849
That is true, yes. IMO, almost everything is worth reading with a critical eye.

Not many people know about Campbell's dodginess, though. I suppose, in hindsight, that link was more for "the lurkers" than you.

 
I actually really appreciate the link! I've read some critique of Campbell, but nothing directly from the Cauldron, so I'll make sure to check it out.

HarpingHawke

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2016, 10:22:13 pm »
Quote from: Anisaer;191862
I actually really appreciate the link! I've read some critique of Campbell, but nothing directly from the Cauldron, so I'll make sure to check it out.

 
While Catja's not able to be around too often, she's our...I suppose she could be called our resident folklorist, and she's pretty damn great with what she does.
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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2016, 11:02:48 pm »
Quote from: FraterBenedict;188701
Since Christianity began as a slightly odd Messianic cult within Judaism, it is probably better to look for the origin of the sacraments within Judaism: At Jewish Passover, a solemn meal - Seder - is eaten, and each week the Shabat begins with a supper in Friday evening. There is no reason to look anywhere else for the origin of the Eucharist.

 
For the origins, maybe not, but for the theology that is applied to it, I can see a possible "pagan" influence. In Catholicism, if I'm not mistaken, Christ's death on the cross is seen as a propitiatory sacrifice, and the Mass is a re-enactment of this sacrifice. Ancient polytheistic religions would sacrifice animals to deities and share the meat as a sacred meal. Catholics even often also offer the Mass for certain intentions, like a special prayer, thanksgiving, or repose of the soul of a deceased loved one. Then again, I think ancient Judaism had much more in common with its polytheistic neighbours than modern Abrahamic faiths will often admit, so the line between paganism and Abrahamic traditions may not be as clear as people think.

RecycledBenedict

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Re: Pagan origins of Christianity?
« Reply #12 on: June 06, 2016, 08:10:52 am »
Quote from: Demophon;192309
For the origins, maybe not, but for the theology that is applied to it, I can see a possible "pagan" influence. In Catholicism, if I'm not mistaken, Christ's death on the cross is seen as a propitiatory sacrifice, and the Mass is a re-enactment of this sacrifice.


A general and undefined sacrificial interpretation of the eucharist is not a later addition to that particular sacrament/mysterion. It is present in an undeveloped form in Luke 22.19 and John 17.19.

Beginning in the 16th century, several Christian communions, adhering to different doctrinal confessions, would quarrel about the details. Baptists and Presbyterians were inclined to deny any sacrificial interpretation at all. The Lutherans were concerned, that some expressions of late mediaeval Catholicism denied the oneness of Christ's sacrifice, and were worried, that some expressions of late mediaeval Catholicism, stressing personal merits won by celebrating priests and attending laity, would detract from the focus on the merits of Christ. The Council of Trent alleviated these concerns to a certain extent, by reining in some late mediaeval exaggerations. Anglicans and Methodists had less of a problem with a sacrificial interpretation of the eucharist, and it is clearly present in books by Herbert Thorndike, John Johnson (Unbloody sacrifice) and hymns by the brothers Wesley. Roman Catholics and Lutherans were able to lay old quarrels, about this, aside in the 1970s, when both agreed, that the sacrifice of Christ is 'actualised and represented' when eucharist is celebrated. That formulation stresses the oneness of Christ's sacrifice in a way acceptable to Lutherans. Roman Catholics and Lutherans share the belief in the Real Presence (though expressed in different ways), and as a consequence of that belief, the body and blood of Christ - after resurrection still an eternal sacrificial gift to the Father - is present on the altars.

Quote from: Demophon;192309
Ancient polytheistic religions would sacrifice animals to deities and share the meat as a sacred meal.


Judaism before the demolition of the Temple in Jerusalem upheld animal sacrifices. Unlike their pagan neighbours, the sacrificed meat was not eaten, but burnt. Some leftover meat was eaten by priests, but, as far as I know, that meat was not regarded as sacrificed.

Quote from: Demophon;192309
Catholics even often also offer the Mass for certain intentions, like a special prayer, thanksgiving, or repose of the soul of a deceased loved one.


Yes, I know. I believe, I have seen the same view expressed in East Asian Anglican liturgical books. The custom to celebrate requiem masses is at least attested since the time of St. Ambrose, and in the Verona Sacramentary from the mid6th century (in the past erroneously attributed to the time of St. Leo) masses for many other different intentions are present.

Quote from: Demophon;192309
Then again, I think ancient Judaism had much more in common with its polytheistic neighbours than modern Abrahamic faiths will often admit, so the line between paganism and Abrahamic traditions may not be as clear as people think.


I recently read Bagnall's Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt. It seems as the Egyptian priesthood was mainly hereditary, just as the Jewish one - with the possible exception of the archiereus in Alexandria attested from the time of Hadrian, which seem to have served as an imperial political control mechanism.

A more important, in my view, connection between Pagan thought and the Christian eucharist, is how the Pagan philosopher Proclus influenced the Christian author writing under the pseudonym Dionysus Areopagita. The latter held the Christian eucharist to be a theurgical rite.

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