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Was Jesus new?  Was Jesus unique?  Lets talk about the Mystery Religions.

Although you don't hear about them in Sunday School, mystery religions are an established part of mainstream religious scholarship. 

The mystery religions date from at least 1,500 BC, though some antropoligist claim they can trace them back into to old stone age.  Maybe.

The Gods of the Mystery religions had differing names and myths, but the faiths themselves had features in common:
they were personal religions that brought their faithful closer to God
their Gods died and came back to life
you joined them with an initiation ceremony, a baptism that reenacted the God's death and rebirth
and were often described by ancient writers as giving rebirth and salvation
their Gods have miraculous power to heal illness
initiates took food and drink in ceremonies that reenacted a holy meal established by the God

Pagan writers wrote about a Pagan Mystery God "incognito, disguised as a man"; about Pagan Gods dying and being reborn with the meaning that "the God is saved, and we shall have salvation."; about initiation ceremonies described as "a voluntary death"; about sacred meals; ceremonial washing; Pagan miracles; the Pagan God who changed water into wine; the Pagan version of the great flood. And much more.

If you're interested in discovering more about the Mysteries from the writings of the ancients themselves, The Ancient Mysteries; A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts is a good place to start.


By the way

Modern scholarship calls the Mysteries of each God a "Mystery Religion," as if they were separate, isolated sects. That's an anachronism. The Mysteries were not separate religions. They did not worship jealous Gods. They were just another side of the ancient world's fluid polytheism.

You could be -- and people were -- initiated in the Mysteries of Isis, and the Mysteries of Dionysus, and the Mysteries of Eleusis.

And of course the Mysteries were not exclusive -- you could sacrifice to Isis at the town's civic festival and also participate in Her mysteries.

Count 'em. What you read about are the big name mysteries, those of Eleusis, Isis and Osiris, Dionysus and a few others. That may make you think mystery religions were isolated, eccentric cults, something only a few people knew about. In fact the mysteries were mainstream religion.

Effectively everyone in Athens (of course we don't have census statistics) was initiated into the great Mysteries of Eleusis. Joining mysteries was part of the culture. And there were hundreds of mystery religions -- world class mainstream scholar Walter Burkert estimates 600.

The Mysteries brough Salvation
The purpose of mystery initiation? Salvation. We know this because that's what the ancients say. Here are some examples.
Eleusis An epitaph in Numidia declares faith in a immortal salvation,

"I, who always lived in a pious body, inhabit, thanks to divine law, the sweet Elysian Fields."

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods: death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing[Inscription found at Eleusis]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


It was the common belief in Athens that whoever had been taught the Mysteries [at Eleusis] would, when he died, be deemed worthy of divine glory. Hence all were eager for initiation. [Scholiast on Aristophanes The Frogs, 158]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


"Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these [Eleusinian] mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom." [Hymn to Demeter, 480-2] 0691014795

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.


 It looks as if those also who established rites of initiation [into the mysteries] for us were no fools, but that there is a hidden meaning in their teaching when it says that whoever arrives uninitiated in Hades will lie in mud, but the purified and initiated when he arrives there will dwell with gods[Plato, 'Phaedo, 69 c]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Osiris' followers found salvation in his rebirth. The exact ritual steps of the initiation into the Mysteries of Osiris, we don't know -- they were kept secret on pain of death. That the initiation meant salvation could be written -- and was:

"The keys of hell and the guarantee of salvation were in the hands of the goddess, and the initiation ceremony itself a kind of voluntary death and salvation through divine grace."  [Apuleius, Metamorphosis, Book 11, 21]

And, "Be of good cheer, O initiates, for the god is saved, and we shall have salvation for our woes."  [Firmicus Maternus, The Error of Pagan Religions, 22.1]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Quoting the Goddess Isis:


" I have come with solace and aid. Away then with tears. Cease to moan. Send sorrow fleeing. Soon through my providence shall the sun of your salvation rise."  [Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11.5]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Mithras Inscriptions in a Mithraeum (temple of Mithras) in Rome read:

Enough said.

"reborn and created for delights," and "you have saved us by the shedding of eternal blood."

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Sabazius A fresco in Rome shows one of the God's faithful, now dead, banqueting among the immortal blessed.

Dionysus In Italy, in the third or fourth century BC, texts written on gold plates and buried with the dead, describe the souls of Dionysus followers in the afterlife, drinking not from one particular spring in Hades, but from another cool pool -- and that will give them divinity and eternal life.

Cybele and Attis: The Festival of Joy -- the celebration of Attis' death and rebirth. On March 22 a pine tree was brought to the sanctuary of Cybele, on it hung the effigy of Attis. The God was dead. Two days of mourning followed, but when night fell on the eve of the third day, March 25th, the worshippers turned to joy.

"For suddenly a light shone in the darkness; the tomb was opened; the God had risen from the dead...[and the priest] softly whispered in their ears the glad tidings of salvation. The resurrection of the God was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave."  [for more see Frazer, Attis, chapter 1]



Good Books for this section

The Ancient Mysteries : A Source book
Sacred Texts of the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World
Marvin W. Meyer (Editor)

Who you gonna trust?  The ancients. Believing scholars shade the facts in favor of the myth.  Non-believers exaggerate and make up facts and connections as a way to attack the church. 

So who are you going to trust?  That's up to you.  I trust the ancients -- people alive back when Christianity began, and before. That's what this book is about.

This is a sourcebook, is a collection of primary documents -- excerpts from ancient authors who wrote about Pagan religion and early Christianity.  It's a great collection, with the original text of most of the standard ancient references to the pagan mystery religions.

This is a powerful book. You'll discover firsthand, right from the pens of the ancients themselves,  that Dionysus came to earth "incognito, disguised as a man"; that Pagan Gods died and were reborn with the meaning that "the God is saved, and we shall have salvation."; that pagans had initiation ceremonies seen as "a voluntary death", sacred meals shared with the God, ceremonial washing, Pagan miracles, a Godman who changed water into wine, and a Pagan version of the great flood.  And much more.  


An important book that no serious student will be without. Highly recommended.

Available at Amazon .com.