Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Greco-Roman roots of Christianity

Most Christians practice their religion without knowing that its origins owe a great deal to previous Greek and Roman pagan religious customs.  This analysis is based on the (unpublished) book "Revolution in Time: The case for a new calendar" and "Christianity in Perspective" (1987) by Robert Wolfe, former Professor of History at NYU.  For example:
1.  Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated on Dec 25.  Actually the real date of birth (dob) of Jesus is unknown.  The Church under the control of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine at the Council of Niceae in 325 ce adopted Dec 25 as the "official" dob of Jesus Christ because it was a popular festival of the religion of Mithraism, which was a religion of Persian origin widespread in the Roman Empire and particularly popular among Roman soldiers for hundreds of years before Christianity.  Dec 25 was also the focus of the celebration of the "Saturnalia," a general boozy orgy popular in Rome.  The Emperor Augustus was the first to proclaim himself as the Sun-God in the pagan Sun worship of the Roman Empire and later Emperor Diocletian adopted Dec 25 as his official birthday.  Constantine decided to co-opt Dec 25 as the celebration of the dob of Jesus Christ substituted for the birth of the God Mithras. This festival was celebrated with drinking, lights and the giving of gifts.  Sounds familiar.
2. Sunday is the Christian sacred day.  Why was Sunday chosen by the Church as the official "sacred" day for Christians?  The Sun was considered by the Romans as the first and most important of the planets, and Sun-worship  was the official religion of Rome for hundreds of years.  The Roman Emperor was considered to be the Sun-God and his sacred day was of course Sunday, and that included Constantine the first Christian Emperor.  Since he wanted to bring Christianity in line with Roman pagan customs he assigned Sunday as the official sacred day of Christianity.  He also issued  a decree forbidding Christians to celebrate the Jewish day of Shabbat (Sabbath), although later some Christian denominations adopted this (Seventh Day Adventists, Sabbateans).
3. The Eucharist, eating bread and wine as symbols of Christ's body and blood.  In ancient Greece there were several "mystery" religions, the most famous of which was the Eleusian Mystery, that took place annually and consisted of the re-enactment of the story of Persephone, the daughter of the Goddess Demeter, being raped by the God Zeus and including the birth of Persephone's illegitimate baby Dionysos.  Attendance at this reenactment was supposed to give the participant eternal life.  As it evolved over centuries the "mystery" became the enactment of the actual eating of the baby Dionysos by the Titans (mythical creatures), whether they actually did this "on stage" is unknown).  Eventually it spawned a feminist religion (including lesbianism named after Lesbos in Greece) when groups of young women would go into the forests and among their customs included the murder and eating of a young man.  In its later incarnation, the baby was born directly out of the thigh of Zeus and was eaten ceremoniously.  In Roman culture this "father-son" relationship was considered an antidote to the original feminist Greek tradition.  Later there were clashes between opposing groups who considered the actual eating of the flesh and blood of the baby as extreme and instead opted for a "symbolic" eating of bread and drinking of wine.  How incredibly parallel to the later clashes between Catholics and Protestants over "consubstantiation" and "transubstantiation."  This ceremony of the Eucharist is actually still considered by Catholics and other sects as essentially cannibalistic, eating the body and drinking the blood of their God (terribly un-Jewish).
4. Easter, the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ, was preceeded in Roman religion by a similar event celebrating the death and resurrection of the God Attis.  Attis, the consort of Cybele in Roman belief, was a fertility God of Phrygian origin, whose self-castration, or castration by Cybele, leading to his death and then his resurrection had both fertility and agricultural connotations. The date of this celebration on March 25 was a significant date in the Roman calendar that occurred exactly 9 months before Dec 25 and although it generally coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach), Easter is of Egyptian-Greco-Roman origin.  Egyptian religious mythology included the death and resurrection of Osiris, that through the Greek dynasty of the Ptolemys entered Greek and Roman cuture.  The veneration of Attis passed into Roman religion and thence influenced Christian belief and practice.   The name Easter is derived from a pagan Norse fertility (spring) Goddess.
5. Who were the three Magi? Magi was the title of a Zoroastrian priest, and is connected with the term magic, since they were supposed to be able to perform miracles.  Who was one of the greatest magicians of all time, why Jesus Christ of course, he walked on water, he healed the sick, he transformed water into wine and multiplied fishes.  James Joyce called him the "great thaumaturge," the great magician.  Where did he learn these tricks, assuming they happened, probably from the Magi.
6. What was the origin of the devil and hell.  In Judaism there is very little consideration of the devil as the source of evil and of the after-life leading to a clear choice between heaven and hell.  So where did this strong concept originate from in Christianity? Mainly from Zoroastrianism, that was a major Iranian/Persian religion that was widely influential throughout the Middle East and Greece. It presumes a constant war between the forces of good, represented by Ahura Mazda, and those of evil represented by the devil.   Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) was the high priest who simplified this religion and emphasized its duality, the stark choice between good and evil, between heaven and a fiery hell.  This concept influenced other Middle Eastern religions including Christianity.  Note that Zoroastrianism was wiped out in Iran by Islam, but survives mainly in Mumbai, India, among the Parsees.
Summary: Christianity is an amalgam of pagan Greco-Roman religions with a Jewish Messiah and Judiac ethical roots.


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