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Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Jesus and Mithra, part Seven and Conclusion (Pages 15 - 19)

Among the Romans, Mithraism, like Christianity was centered in the “house church.” The practice was carried out among people who were intimate with one another. Individual practitioners believed that initiation into the mysteries allowed them to receive immortality through Mithra, but also as a part of a community. Mithraism, like Christianity thought that it transformed the individual spiritually while leaving them in the same social position. The transformation of the individual was interior. It took place in the heart of the individual, and manifested itself in their position in the life of the temple, or Mithraic shrine as they advanced through the stages of initiation, but that did not mean that their status, or rank, outside of the Mithraic community would change; a slave would remain a slave, a plebian would remain a plebian. The activities of the cult were closed to the general society, they were secret and mysterious, and therefore not a cause for disturbance, or upset in the social order outside of the community.

In Roman Mithraism there were seven stages of initiation; the Crow, the Griffin, the Soldier, the Lion, the Persian, the Helio-Dromus (or Sun-Runner) and finally the Father. The symbolism of the number seven should not be lost on us, as in Christianity there are seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins etc…The Order of Initiates were grouped in two classes; those in the first four stages counted as one class, and the last three stages counted as another class. An initiate would move up the stages of initiation until he became one with the Father and thus the Father himself. At each stage of initiation, the initiate would learn a secret code that he would later (after death) be used to get him the heavenly realm appropriate to their rank. This belief in ranked heavenly planes, and passwords to allow the individual through the gate of paradise was widely believed among practitioners of Kabalaistic (coming out of the Pharisaic Sect), and among groups of Christians who had fallen into the heretical errors of Gnosticism. 

A ceremony of initiation was called a Telete from the Greek word telos meaning goal or end. In the ceremony of initiation, the initiate would first kneel before the Father. The Father would then perform a “laying on of hands,” followed by a rite similar to baptism; wherein the Father would pour water over the head of the initiate from the horn of a bull. Sometimes the rite of water would be done by full immersion. In cases where the ceremony of initiation was accompanied by an actual animal sacrifice the initiate would be splattered with the blood of the sacrificial animal, or slapped in the face with a shank of meat. In other cases; the blood would be replaced by wine. This rite of blood, wine or water is referred to as the purgation, a ritual cleansing of the individual from their sins. Sometimes the ceremony of purgation would be completed by passing a torch over the head of the individual or even touching the individual with the torch in order to symbolize a baptism of both fire and water. The purgation would be followed by the consecration or coronation where a golden crown would be placed on the head of the initiate; this crown was called the “solar crown.” Iconographically the solar crown was analogous to the Christian halo, which term is derived from the Greek; meaning disk of the sun.

There is much in this symbolism that recalls Christian rituals of initiation; so much that I will not even make an argument for how intimately linked the two systems of ritual initiation are. I will simply let the record speak for itself.

In Roman Mithraism, the initiation ceremony would be followed by a feast meant to symbolize the feast shared by Mithra and Sol. Ideally, the feast would come from the sacrifice of a bull, but this feast was not required. While the sacrifice of a bull was central to Mithraic worship, as the cult spread through the empire, and as worship became confined to house churches it is thought the sacrifice of the bull was replaced with a symbolic alternative. Any animal could serve for the feat, or even a meal of bread and wine. Because the death of the “Primal Bull” was productive of all “good things” on the Earth; any of those “good things” that come from the bull were suitable to be used in the sacred meal. This meal itself, much like the Christian Eucharist, was thought to be an effective means of salvation for the worshippers of Mithra.[1]

This description of Mithraic practices should further our understanding of how Mithraism and Christianity were sympathetic to one another. It should not surprise us to see the markers of Mithraic worship in our own Christian tradition.

In Conclusion

Among the Romans, the first Christian emperor was Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, who prior to his death-bed conversion to Christianity, was also a devotee of Mithras-Sol Invictus. When Constantine was made emperor, the first coins struck in his honor depicted his face with the inscription Sol Invictus. Some scholars think that Constantine thought that he was himself, an incarnation of Sol Invictus. This may seem somewhat confusing considering that we know that Constantine attributed his victory over his enemies to Jesus Christ. Constantine’s famous vision of the Christian symbol, the Chi-Ro (Px), at the battle of the Milvian bridge (312 CE), is thought to have enabled his victory when his army was at the gates of Rome. In the minds of many practitioners of Mithraism, Jesus and Mithra may have been considered to have bene the same person; that Jesus was an incarnation of Mithra. If this is true it begs the question; if Constantine thought he was Mithra-Sol Invictus, and if Jesus was also believed to be an incarnation of Mithra, did Constantine think that he was Christ?

One thing that I know is for sure, Christianity and Mithraism, as religious and spiritual philosophies, are both filled with hope. Hope for the life of the individual; hope that the individual will ultimately experience justice. Belief that God is good, and that God has given a light to humankind that will guide us in the way to paradise.

Mithraism was less accessible to the average person than Christianity. Mithraism wanted to keep to its secret ways, at a time when Christianity was opening itself to the world, and rooting out those groups, the Gnostics who had those same tendencies toward secrecy and exclusion.

The cult of Jesus would ultimately defeat the cult Mithra in the hearts and minds of the people because, in the end Jesus was no respecter of persons, badges or offices. Jesus was for every person, everywhere, at anytime. However once Christianity ascended, becoming the official religion of the empire, priests and bishops, cardinals and popes, and ecclesiastical courts became the official arbiters of the faith, with their badges and offices becoming ever more important.

[1] Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, pgs. 291-305

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On Jesus and Mithra, Part Six (Pages 13 - 15)

In the Persian form of Mithraism (also referred to as Zoarastrianism); in Persia the priests were called Parsees. Outside of Persia they were known as the Magi. It is from the Magi that we have derived the term magic. In the Roman form of Mithraism; the chief of a Mithraic temple was called father. To be a “father,” the individual had to have risen through all seven stages of Mithraic initiation. The Magi are of historical significance to the history of Christianity. Magi are present in the infancy narrative of Matthew. They give witness to the birth of Jesus. In the Gospels they were presented as wise men, and astronomers; just as the reputation of the Mithraites would have them be. Because the infancy narrative of Matthew is myth, and not an accurate retelling of history, the presence of the Magi in his narrative is not accidental. and is definitely indicative of a sympathetic relationship between early Christians, and first century CE Mithraites.

Why would a sympathetic relationship exist?

Both Christians and Mithraites believe in the immortality of the soul, the reality of personal salvation, the ministry of the angelic host, a God of goodness and light, as well as a final battle with the cosmic forces of darkness, sin, and evil.

In the Roman world, by the first century CE Mithra had taken on the aspect of the incarnate son of Sol. Furthermore, in his exalted state, after the feast made from the “Primal Bull” Mithra is seen as being identical to Sol. Mithra like Christ is seen as being a mediator between Heaven and Earth, responsible for guiding the souls of the elect to paradise. The iconographic similarities explain the sympatico between the two faiths.

Ulansey stated that the worship of Mithra in caves, as it was done among the Romans, was markedly distinct from the Persian form of worship, saying that we cannot explain this as something that occurred by way of a natural syncretic transformation. However, there is a clear path of transformation that can be marked out through the cult of Perseus.

Perseus is the son of the Olympian Zeus and the human Danae. When Zeus impregnates Danae he comes to her in the form of a shower of gold; not in the form of a human being, or other animal (as was often the case with Zeus). The impregnation of Danae is the only scene like this in all of the Greek mythologies. Zeus impregnates Danae in his spirit form; through the use of the ephemeral and symbolic “shower of gold” we are instructed to know that this is the most exalted form Zeus could take. The subsequent birth of Perseus is the closest thing, in all of the Greek mythologies, to a “virgin birth,” a conception narrative analogous to that of Mary, conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Danae gives birth to Perseus in an underground cavern. In astronomy the figure of Taurus (the Primal Bull) is the primary symbol of earth. Insofar as Mithra is transformed and exalted through the death and “new-life” of the bull, Mithra is also born of the earth. As a result, the iconographic narratives of the births of both Perseus and Mithra, often depict them as emerging from a rock. And it is not unreasonable to suppose that the underground worship of Mithra served to highlight these features. The earth is the womb wherein we are nurtured, and from which we are born, like Mithra, like Perseus, into new life.[1]

The worship of Mithra in underground caverns had the effect of limiting Mithraic circles to small groups of people. The worship of Mithra is thought to have been exclusively male, though some scholars believe that in some regions women had their own form of Mithraic devotion. In army outposts, at the fringes of the Empire, the worship chambers were often very small, consisting of a narrow room with rows of benches. In urban centers the size and splendor of the temples varied with the demographics of the cities they were in, from simple to ostentatious. However, most worship places were small, and intimate. The intimacy of these temples bears a close similarity to the “house churches” of the early Christians. Many of the Mithraic temples found in Roman cities such as Ostia were later converted to Christian worship.

The last thing that Ulansey points out as being distinct and separate in Roman Mithraism from Persian Mithraism are the seven stages of initiation. I don’t have an easy explanation available to explain this transformation but it may be something as simple as the imposition of a hierarchical social structure natural to the Roman people over the practice of Mithraic worship. There is no reason to say that because this initiatory system exists in the Roman tradition and not in the Persian system we are dealing with two distinct traditions.

[1] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 34-36

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Ode to the birdsong
Pealing in the winter mourn
Life in ice, and snow

On Jesus and Mithra, Part Five (Pages 11 - 13)

By the fourth century CE Mithraism had spread by merchants, and through the Roman army as far North as Hadrian’s wall in Bremenium, as far West as Olisipo on the Western coast of Spain; it had permeated the Roman provinces of North Africa, and Egypt, and was thriving in its home land of Persia; stretching its influence all the way through Persia to India. As much as two percent of the population of the Roman Empire may have been initiated into the mysteries of the Cult of Mithra.

The traditional date to celebrate the birth of Mithra, going back as far as 750 BCE, is a date significant in the Roman calendar known as Saturnalius, December 25th. This date is also the celebrated birthday of such notable people as Julius Caesar, his son by adoption Augustus Caesar, the first Christian emperor, Constantine; and most famously Jesus of Nazareth himself. The fact that all of these people shared the same birth day does not constitute proof of anything regarding the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. The Romans used a different calendar in those days, and in that time December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. It was celebrated in nearly every culture in the Northern hemisphere, as that point in the yearly cycle that the light returns and the days goes from the deepest dark to light. However, this will lead me into a discussion of some of the other tell-tale markers of the sympathetic relationship between the two faiths.

The Cult of Mithra was a “mystery religion,” meaning that it was secretive, closed to outsiders, to anyone that did not go through a significant ritual of initiation, and it purported to disclose to the initiate the mysteries of the universe. Outside of Persia, the main adherents of the Cult of Mithra were members of the Roman army. There is no evidence that Mithraites were ever persecuted as Christians were; at times, but like a number of other closed societies in ancient Rome they had to keep to themselves, and guard their secrets. The necessity of secrecy for the cult of Mithra, as with that of many other cults, had much to do with the paranoid mindset of the Roman emperors. All manner of private groups, trade guilds, and burial societies, were periodically outlawed by one emperor or another; this on account of the fact that most of the emperors were insecure in their power, and constantly suspicious of treason, and sedition. The fact that the Cult of Mithra recruited many of its members from the army probably spared it from persecution because the emperors always ruled by fragile alliances, and loose coalitions. They were always dependent on the power of the armies to keep them in the seat of power. If the emperors were to alienate large groups of their supporters (the army) through a persecution of their faith they would lose that power.

As I noted earlier Ulansey saw the secrecy of the cult of Mithra, as practiced in the Roman Empire as something distinct from the Persian form of Mithraism. There are differences between the two systems of belief, but so great as to merit the claim that they are distinct from one another. A close look at the structure of these religious systems, icons, rituals and beliefs will reveal that relationship, and also the close relationship Mithraism has with Christianity.

Monday, December 28, 2015

On Jesus and Mithra, Part Four (Pages 8 -11)

In the first century BCE, the most important center for Mithraic worship in the Hellenistic world was in the region of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. Officially, the patron deity of this city was the Greek demi-god Perseus, but as Ulansey points out, Perseus as he was worshipped in Tarsus, was identical to the Persian Mithra in almost every way. The Roman general Pompey, in his journals, points out the fact that the people of Tarsus worship Mithra[1] and this is the point of origin for the spread of the Cult of Mithra in the Roman world.

I want to preface my discussion of the relationship between Mithra and Perseus with an acknowledgement of the profuse pluralism at work in the Greco-Roman world at this time. Parallels to Mithra and Perseus can be found in the stories of many other heroes. Not all of the adventures attributed to Perseus should be attributed to Mithra and vice versa. In the Greco-Roman world the gods and heroes were regarded differently in different cities and different regions at different times. The heroes and gods in Greco-Roman mythology are extremely malleable and blend with one another quite extensively. However, in Tarsus the parallels between Mithra and Perseus go deep; as I will demonstrate shortly

According to Plutarch, Mithraism began among the pirates of Cilicia, the province bordering on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These pirates, whose ships “numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred,” and whom Pompey was sent to subdue in 67 BCE, “offered strange rites of there own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites among which those of Mithras continue to the present time having been first instituted by them.”..For our purposes, the most important aspect of Plutarch’s evidence tracing the origins of Mithraism to the region of Cilicia is the fact that Cilicia—and in particular its capitol city of Tarsus—was the home of a deeply rooted cult of the hero Perseus.[2]

Among the Greeks Perseus is considered to be the founder of the city of Tarsus. Tarsus is the city bearing the name of the “Primal-Bull.” Perseus like Mithra is intimately linked to the sun, referred to as either: Apollo, Helios or Sol. Sometimes Apollo is depicted as making oblations before Perseus, just as Sol is sometimes depicted as kneeling before Mithra. Also, the order is at times reversed with Mithra or Perseus kneeling before the deity representing the sun.[3]

In Greek mythology Perseus is strongly connected with the Persian Empire. The Greeks believed that his son, Perses, was the founder of the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Perseus is always depicted as wearing a Phrygian cap indicating his Asiatic (read Persian) origins.

The evidence for a connection between the figures of Mithras and Perseus is of three kinds: first, there is the astronomical evidence consisting of the fact that the constellation Perseus occupies a position in the sky exactly analogous to that occupied by Mithras in the tauroctony; second, there are a number of striking iconographical and mythological parallels between the two figures, such as Perseus’ Phrygian cap, his connection with Persia, and the fact that like Perseus, Mithras always looks away from his victim; third there is the historical-geographical evidence linking the origins of Mithraism with Cilicia, the site of an important Perseus cult.[4]

The astronomical evidence cited above concerns the fact that the constellation Mithra-Perseus is located directly above the constellation of Taurus the bull so that if the two constellations are viewed together the figure of Mithra-Perseus is seen kneeling on the back of the bull, sword in hand to make the ritual cut, looking away from the sacrificial victim just as Mithra is always depicted in the artwork of Mithraic temples; in the tauroctony. These similarities are too many to ignore. The Cults of Mithra and Perseus were the dominant cults of the city. Each of these Gods are depicted time, and time again on Tarsian coins. Perseus is the patron deity of the city, and the city itself is named after the “Primal Bull” of Mithraic worship.  Mithra is Perseus at least in the worship directed at these figures in Tarsus.

The city of Tarsus figures prominently in syncretic link between Mithraism and Christianity. Tarsus began as a Hittite city in the second millennium BCE. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo[5] notes that it was a significant intellectual center “surpassing Athens and Alexandria.” It was known for its astronomers and produced the renowned philosophers Athenodorus and Nestor.[6] More significant to our thesis it was the birthplace and home of St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, a Pharisee and the most prominent writer of the early Christian Church.

None of my reading indicates that Paul was aware of or was influenced by Mithraism, but it is hard to imagine that such an astute individual as himself would not have been aware of the basic tenets of belief promoted by the major Cult of the city he called home. What is more is that Paul was a Pharisee. AS I have already indicated in my introduction to the origins of the Pharisaic sect; the beliefs of the Pharisee’s were at least sympathetic to the beliefs of Mithraites; including beliefs concerning the immortality of the soul, the notion of personal salvation and a belief in angels (the notion that humankind receives a ministry from God through the angelic host) were held in common by Mithraites and Pharisees alike.

It is my contention; that if Paul was not directly influenced by Mithraism he was indirectly influenced by Mithraic ideas simply by virtue of the fact that he was a Pharisee. Furthermore, the prominence of his ministry, and influence on Christian doctrine constitutes a second infusion of Persian cosmology on the Judeo-Christian tradition; the first being located within the Babylonian exile, and subsequent Diaspora.

First through the Pharisaic sect, and second through the teaching of St. Paul of Taursus (himself a Pharisee), Mithraism influenced the Judeo-Christian tradition. I do not contend that through Mithraism anything substantially “new” was imparted to the burgeoning Christian movement, but that the prevailing ideas of the “Persian-Mithraic worldview” were concretized.

[1] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 40, par. 1
[2] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 40, par. 1 and pg. 41, par. 3
[3] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 44, par. 1
[4] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 45, par. 2
[5] Strabo 64 B.C.E. – 21 C.E.
[6] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 68

Sunday, December 27, 2015

On Jesus and Mithra, Part Three (Pages 6 - 8)

There are several clues to that we can follow, which will help us understand the significance of Mithraism in relation to other Mediterranean religions; especially Judaism and Christianity, which we can uncover in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

A close study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that the Jewish people did not always have (and do not now have) a strong belief either in the immortality of the soul, or the afterlife. After the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE, these beliefs enter their tradition, and over the centuries become more clearly developed. When the Jewish people were released from captivity in Babylon. it was by the Persians; under their king Cyrus,[1] who had just recently conquered the Babylonians. Cyrus is depicted by the Jewish people, in the Hebrew scriptures as a servant of Yahweh:

22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—to fulfil the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah—Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom. 23 ‘Cyrus king of Persia says this, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’[2]

This passage does not shed any light on what Cyrus’s theological disposition might have actually been, or what his personal beliefs were. Whatever that theology was, we can conclude that it did not present a significant conflict with Hebrew theology at that time. This passage indicates that there was no essential antagonism between the theological claims of these two cultures. Furthermore, it is likely that Cyrus or his priests saw a considerable amount of compatibility between their belief systems. At this time; Persian Mithraism and Judaism were both essentially monotheistic, though neither of them were perfectly so. They both held, as basic beliefs, that creation was good. Mithraism had a strongly held belief in the immortality of the soul. At this time Judaism did not, but immediately following this period a movement within Judaism would develop this theme in profoundly consequential ways. The adherents of this movement became known as the Pharisees. The designation Pharisee, is derived from the name of the Persian priests of Zoroaster, who were called the Parsees. This etymology clearly shows the intimate connection between Pharisaic Judaism, and the religious traditions of the Persian Empire.

Even in Jesus’ time, 500 years after the Babylonian exile; belief in the immortality of the soul had not fully entered the mainstream of Jewish life, especially inside the borders of Judea itself. This belief was taught primarily by the Pharisees, among groups of Jews living outside Judea, in what is known as the diaspora. It was taught by the Essenes, in the remote desert community of Qumran. It was a popular belief among Jewish people for whom the synagogue was the center of their faith life and not the temple in Jerusalem.

In addition to belief in the immortality of the soul, and the afterlife; the Pharisees and the Essenes of Qumran also had significantly developed angelologies. This belief in the existence of angels (divine messengers) was another matter that took a long time to develop in Judaism, but which was already present in Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian exile. Many scholars say that it is impossible to state with certainty that the Pharisees, received these teachings directly from the Parsees, and through their exposure to Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian captivity. It is also impossible to rule it out. What we can say for certain is that the Pharisees came into existence just after the Babylonian exile. I do not believe that these belief systems developed independently of one another, because I do not believe in that type of coincidence, therefore I take it as pure theological syncretism.

The Babylonian exile and the subsequent release of the Jewish people by the Persian king Cyrus were the first of many major impacts that Mithraism would have on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Prior to the Babylonian exile; a belief in angels and the immortality of the soul did not exist as fully developed doctrines, but they did exist in germ, in a latent form, as an aspect of generalized beliefs permeating the Mediterranean region, and the Near East at this. However, the ideas in the broader tradition were not connected to a clearly developed theology of salvation. In most Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions, the concept of a blessed afterlife, to the extent that such ideas existed, held that those blessed places were reserved for people of heroic stature. Because common people and slaves did not have the ability to lead a heroic life, they had no hope of enjoying anything blessedness in the hereafter. Mithraism and more importantly Christianity would change all of that; by promising the hope of salvation to anyone who would seek to align themselves with the God of creation, the God of light and goodness.

[1] The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, pg.72, par. 3
[2] The New Jerusalem Bible, standard edition, Doubleday, 2 Chronicles 36: 22-23, pg. 448, col. 2, par. 2

A Homily - The Gospel of Luke 2:41-52

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.27 (Sunday)


Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.


Dangerous Myths

This narrative is a myth. It does give us any reliable information about who Jesus was, nor about his relationship with his parents; even though it purports to do so.

This is unfortunate.

It does tell us something about what the author of Luke wanted us to believe about Jesus. That his parents were faithful and observant Jews. They obediently went to Jerusalem for the Passover as required of them by the law. There they were counted and made their offerings to the temple.

The authors of Luke were also trying to tell us that Jesus was wise beyond his years, that he was capable of self-direction, that he had a sense of mission and purpose for his life. The authors of Luke also want us to believe that Jesus understood at this early age, long before his adult ministry began, that he was, in a unique way, a child of God. Finally, Luke wants us to understand that his submission to the authority of his parents was voluntary.

What is unfortunate about this narrative is this; instead of informing us about who Jesus is, it muddies our understanding by mythologizing him, and instead only tells us what the authors of Luke wanted us to believe about him, what their followers hoped was true.

Though the authors of Luke could not foresee this, these writings would come divide the Christian community from itself and precipitate centuries of bloody conflict over the question of Jesus’ divinity, his humanity and so forth.

I contend that the man who was Jesus of Nazareth, Joshua son of Joseph, would have been aghast at those developments. Jesus, the man spent his life and went to his death as a champion of justice, an advocate for mercy, as healer, as an advocate for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the widow and the orphan.

Luke’s narrative is therefore a cautionary tale, reminding us of the necessity to cleave to the truth at all times, to separate our hopes, our desires, and most importantly our fears, from values we wish to convey.  

The First Sunday of Christmas
Feast of the Holy Family

Saturday, December 26, 2015

On Jesus and Mithra, Part Two (Pages 3 - 5)

In the ancient Persian form Mithraism; Mithra is demi-god. He is viewed as the incarnated scion of Ahura-Mahzda, and Ahura-Mahzda is believed to be the source of all goodness, creator of the Universe, God of light, and source of life. Some scholars believe that in its original form; Mithraism was strictly monotheistic (perhaps the first truly monotheistic belief system), naming Ahura-Mahzda as the only deity. However, it is evident that if Mithraism was originally monotheistic, at some point in its evolution the belief system became dualistic. Another deity was set up as a counterpart to Ahura-Mahzda; forming a pantheon of sorts. This secondary deity was given the name Angra-Mainyu (whose name has given us the term anger). Angra-Mainyu was believed to be the “uncreated” source of evil in the world, whose agency was in diametric opposition to the light and life of Ahura-Mahzda, and that the drama of our lives on Earth was a reflection of the struggle between these two cosmic powers. This clearly defined dualism would be of great relevance to both Judaism and Christianity in the centuries to come.

In the later form of Mithraism, the Mithraism of the Roman Empire; the demi-god Mithra is again depicted to be in the same relationship to the high God. In this cultural context, the high God is given the name Sol Invictus, and is iconographically represented as the sun.

In both the ancient Persian form of Mithraism and the Roman form of Mithraism, the demi-god Mithra is seen as being sent to Earth by the deity responsible for the creation of the universe; in the former tradition Ahura-Mahzda, in the latter tradition Sol Invictus. In the Roman form of Mithraism the purpose of sending Mithra to Earth is for him to slay the “Primal Bull.” Upon slaying the bull, Mithra and Sol Invictus feast together from its flesh. This feast has the effect that afterwards Mithra and Sol become con-joined. They have dined together, they are now “as one.” They are joined together as one being with coextensive attributes each sharing the title Invictus, meaning unconquered. In Roman Mithraism this meal was considered to be the effective means of salvation for all human beings, and that by participating in a recreation of the sacred meal, through the rites of initiation the individual would become one with Mithra, therefore one with Sol Invictus, and thereby gaining a place in the heavenly paradise of the afterlife.

As I indicated earlier in my reference to Ulansey’s work; Persian Mithraism did not depict Mithra as the “bull-slayer.” The narrative from Persia is as follows: Mithra does not kill the primal-bull, rather Mithra and the bull are sent to Earth by Ahura-Mahzda, where they are assailed by the “evil-one.” Angra-Mainyu slays Mithra and the bull together, in an act of violence. Angra-Mainyu attempts to utterly destroy Mithra and the bull, but his efforts are frustrated by Ahura-Mazda. Through the power of the god of light, stalks of wheat, and the grape vine spring from the carcass of the bull. All manner of good things, and creatures flow from the bull to fill, and populate creation, and to be used by human. Ahura-Mahzda trasforms the violence of Angra-Mainyu into a new creation. New life springs from the bull, Mithra is restored, and returns to Ahura-Mahzda in heaven.

In my view there is no significant discrepancy between these two forms of the myth. In both versions Mithra is sent to Earth by a God of greater authority than himself. In both versions the bull is slain and its death is productive; both of new life, and of all good things on the Earth. In the Roman version the slaying of the bull is an explicit sacrifice. In the Persian version the intentionality of the sacrifice is implicit. The Roman version is not etiological, it does not address the origins of life on Earth, the Persian version is. The Roman version it is primarily a teleological myth having to do with human destiny, salvation, and the life of the immortal soul. The Persian version balances these two concerns. In the Persian account Mithra and the Bull are sent to Earth by the creator deity; their death is a vehicle by which the drama of life on Earth begins, making it a myth of origins. Their death, while being the result of violence perpetrated by the “evil-one” does not serve the interest of Angra-Mainyu, but does serve the interest of Ahura-Mahzda. Mithra of course does not die, because his soul is immortal and he returns to heaven. From the body of the bull comes an abundance of life, demonstrating that Ahura-Mahzda is greater, not only having the power to create goodness sui generous (in itself), but also having the power to bring good out of evil; making the fruit of the labor of Angra-Mainyu effectively nothing. This made Mithraism in Persia ostensibly dualistic, holding that Angra-Mainyu would eventually be overcome by Ahura-Mahzda; overcome in totality. This profound hope is apparent within the structure of myth itself. In both the Roman and the Persian versions of the death of the primal bull is emblematic of life; it is the creation of life itself, and also it is life restored. The principal actor in both versions of the narrative is God, the creator figured as either Ahura-Mahzda or Sol Invictus; respectively. Whether it is Mithra who kills the bull, or Angra-Mainyu; it does not matter. The slaying of the bull serves the purpose of the principal actor, Ahura-Mahzda/Sol Invictus, God of life, God of light, God of good.

And so I reiterate the assertion; what is significant and most consistent in the worship of Mithra from c. 700 BCE through c. 400 CE, from Rome to Persia, is the belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation. In Mithraism, this theology underwent a profound development that it would have a lasting and significant impact on other faith traditions.

Friday, December 25, 2015

On Jesus and Mithra, Part 1 (Pages 1 - 3)

Everything we know about Jesus is tangled in myth. It is certain that the narratives of his birth, and childhood are works of complete fiction. Even the narrative of his adult ministry, beginning around the year 30 C.E. is imbued with metaphor and allegory. The narrative that we have received from the tradition is so thoroughly syncretized to the broader cultural context of the Near East that we do not even refer to him by his given name; Joshua, but instead we call him by a Greek variant. Therefore, if we desire to understand this story, (as we should) how it came to be as it is, we must engage that broader narrative, the complete societal and theological context from which the Christian story emerged. We must journey beyond the Palestinian crossroads that was ancient Judea, and beyond the Greco-Roman world, we must go to Persia; because the story really begins there, with Mithra.

The “Cult of Mithras” is understudied, but to the extent that it is, it is commonly regarded, merely as a competitor of the early Christian Church, but it was much more than that. Mithraic worship, as it was practiced by the Romans, principally by members of the Roman army in the first four centuries of the common era, has its roots in ancient Persia; as an offshoot of Zoroastrianism (c. 700 BCE), (1) evolving through the centuries until it reached its final form as a “mystery cult” movement with the Roman army. Through its evolution, propelled by the extensive influence of the Persian Empire, Mithraism had a significant impact on every society it encountered, and every form of worship in the Mediterranean region, the Near East, and Southwest Asia.
This essay is an attempt to communicate the multiple ways by which Mithraism has influenced the development of other faith traditions, most importantly the Judea-Christian tradition, and our images of Jesus. 

Scholarship on Mithraism is scant. Most scholars research tends to downplay the connection between the form of Mithraism that was practiced by the Roman army, and the ancient form of Mithraism that was practiced in the heart of Persia. To justify this, these scholars will site some obvious iconographic and liturgical differences between the two forms of worship, as if to say that the presence of a few subtle differences is enough to mark a complete separation and distinction between the traditions; despite the much greater body of similarities. The following paragraph from David Ulansey’s book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries illustrates this point clearly. He says:

"The Western mystery cult of Mithraism as it appeared in the Roman Empire derived its very identity from a number of characteristics which were completely absent from the Iranian worship of Mithra: a series of initiations into ever higher levels of the cult accompanied by strict secrecy about the cult’s doctrines; the distinctive cave like temples in which the cult’s devotees met; and, most important, the iconography of the cult, in particular the tauroctony. None of these essential characteristics of Western Mithraism were to be found in the Iranian worship of Mithra."(2) 

Some of his Ulansey’s predecessors have suggested that the differences between the Persian-Iranian form of Mithraism and that of the Roman army are the product of natural transformations that occur in all belief systems as they move from one cultural to another, across great expanses of geography, and time. His particular criticisms have to do with extrinsic matters of form, and ritual activity, which are the structures that we would expect to change over time and distance. The seven stages of initiation, the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), the codes of secrecy, and the type of temple worship have little to do with the central tenets of Mithraism; closely held beliefs that had existed from the earliest times in Persia, through its final incarnation as a Roman mystery cult. The central theme remains the same; a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

(1) By 700 BCE the Royal court of Persia had fully converted to the religion of Zoroastrianism and its demi-god Mithra. However, Zoroastrianism likely emerged sometime between 2500 – 1200 BCE. 

(2)  The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 8, par. 4 

A Homily – The Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.25 (Christmas)


This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.


The Real Story

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Joseph was of the House of David. She became pregnant before their wedding; this according to the design God had put in place for the propagation of human life.

Joseph had second thoughts both about marriage, and being a father, but in a moment of conscience, listening to the spirit of truth within him, he made a choice, the just and responsible choice to raise his son.

He took Mary as his wife, and brought her into his house. They named him Joshua, after the great hero of the Israelites. They pinned their hopes on him. In that trust; they experienced the presence of God. They understood that God, God who created the universe; that God was with them.

If Joseph had succumbed to his fear, and weakness; in that time and place Mary would have been destroyed, she would have been an outcast, she would have had no standing in her community.

Joseph was humbled by his weakness and doubt. In that moment, he learned what it means to truly love.

If you believe it.

Christmas Day

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of Luke 1: 39 - 44

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.20 (Sunday)


Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’


A Sad Reality

The writers of Mark began their gospel when Jesus of Nazareth, otherwise known as Joshua son of Joseph, was a man; he was an adult and at the beginning of his public ministry.

The early Christians wanted more, and so the authors of Luke went back in time and narrated a fable about his conception and birth. In this fable, or myth (whatever you think it should be called) they attempted to tie up various loose ends in the stories that were being told about Jesus, and also to unite different factions of the Christian movement in their time. This particular piece of the narrative was meant to appeal to the followers of John the Baptist. It brought forth the notion that Jesus and John were actually cousins, and that even though John was older, he was a follower of Jesus from the time he was in the womb. Just as John’s mother was subordinate to Mary.

It is a story, a fable, a myth; the whole thing is a fiction.

It is unfortunate, because a great deal of theology and doctrine has been hung from these exercises in make believe. And these fictions were in themselves naked political calculations meant to manipulate the burgeoning movement.

The succeeding Gospels each in their turn reached back further in time. The writers of Matthew inserted a confusing genealogy; tracing Jesus’ heritage back to Adam, through David on his father’s side. And yet, at the same time we are to believe that Joseph was not his biological father.

While the writers of John begin their narrative with the beginning of time itself.

It is sad to note, that over the centuries, what people believed about these fables, ended up being the cause of extreme, bitter and deadly partisan conflict among Christians. Never mind the actual teaching of Jesus; to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 19, 2015

St. Stephen's

Found Poetry

**you do NOT need to be sober**
to access our services

To connect with an Outreach Worker
Or free from any phone,

St. Stephen’s Street Outreach is part of
St. Stephen’s Human Services, which offers
Shelter, housing, employment, advocacy,
And ex-offender programs to those
Who are homeless or living in poverty.

Main Office:
2211 Clinton Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404

ending homelessness

St. Stephen’s Human Services

The Poem that Follows:

The note promised help, outreach
Even the drunkard is worthy

Connect, reach-out
The street is no-place to live

St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr
After Jesus, who loved the poor

Feed the hungry, house the homeless
The human being next to you, is your sister,
     Is your brother,
           I am in them,
                as are you

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of Luke 3: 10 - 18

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.13 (Sunday)

The Wisdom of John

When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’

 A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.


The Annointed

The authors of Luke, want to tell us about something about Jesus, through a narrative about Saint John the Baptist.

Let us take a moment and reflect on the wisdom of John given to us here.

The spirit of truth was in him, as it is in all of us. The people then, God’s children, were as we are today; created in the divine image.

We are all formed in the image of God; with innate capacities for reason, wisdom, and love. It is these qualities that we are referring to when we say that we are made in the image of God; creator of the entire universe.

Everyone, and everything in the universe, every moment of time flows from, and is sustained by the providence of God.

We did not then (in the time of John), and we do not now need to wait for an anointed one, for a Christ to preach to us and tell us the truth. The truth is spoken all around us, in ordinary moments, in normal conversation, the truth is speaking to you in your own heart, at the core of your being, from that seed of God’s Word that is germinating within you; just as it was spoken by John to those that followed him.

“What must we do?” The people asked.

Act mercifully.
Be kind.
Act justly.
Be well.
Act lovingly.
Do no harm.

Execute your offices, and fulfill the trust that has been placed in you faithfully; without corruption.
There is nothing extraordinary in these precepts. This is the ordinary way of life that we are called to.

And yet it was stunning for the people to hear the truth spoken so simply; with such conviction, so alarming that those who listened to it thought John might a divine being.

Why is this our response to the truth when we hear it?

It is precisely because the solution to the world’s sickness (sin and the love of evil) is so simple, that when we try to imagine these solutions coming to fruition in our own lives, we get lost in the overwhelming reality of what is. As if we were trying to hold back an ocean of greed, hate, and fear with a wall made of paper, as thin as a wish.

In the here and now we all know what the solution is, and yet we have no faith in one another that each of us will do our part, and worse yet; many have no desire to do their part at all. The realities of sin and evil are so vast that when we try to imagine resolving them with the only solutions that are available (love and mercy), the scope of the problems takes on a cosmic significance.

Remember this, no matter how great the reality of sin and evil are; they are rooted in time and space, they are finite, and as such they are infinitely less than the infinite love of God.

John was wise when he set aside a claim to divinity; the expectation that he was himself an anointed being come to solve the world’s problems. He knew that they would not be solved in his lifetime, not in the final sense, because it is part of the human condition. He also knew that another would come to pick up his mantle, and carry on that work, because h truth is spoke in every generation, in every community, in all times. Again John was wise to point his followers to the future, because we are led into the place of justice and mercy only by our desire for it, and by the power of hope, through the expectation of it.

It is not necessary for us to believe as the Gospel writers did, that John was pointing to the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, because, if it had not been Jesus, it would have been someone else, as it will be someone else in our own future. This is because God’s redemptive work never ends.
When we are on God’s threshing floor, we came their as we are, a complete person, we came as the whole stalk of wheat. That is how we encounter God, in our entirety; each of us a whole person. The wheat and the chaff are not separate people, sinners and saints. We are each of us the wheat, and the chaff together.

It is the encounter with the divine that frees us from the qualities that bind us to our own sins. Gods winnowing fan blows against us like the wind, it is the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing over us and flowing into us; freeing us from the fear, and hate, and desire they cause us to lie, cheat, steal, and harm our neighbors, even those we love. The Spirit ruhah carries us to the fire where all of that doubt is burned away, not in a fire of prosecution, judgement and destruction, but in the fires of 
transformation, and purification, and hope.

The Third Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Homily - The Gospel of Luke 3:1 - 6

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.06 (Sunday)

The Historical Witness?

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.


The understanding of history is a great tool. The Christian tradition has always attempted to root itself in historical realities; with greater and lesser degrees of success.

The study of our tradition gave birth to modern historical criticism; without which, as a culture, we would have no understanding of the uses and limitations of history whatsoever, and that took eighteen hundred years to develop.

Our stories, our narrative about the life and mission, the arrest and killing of Jesus are a part of the testimony of our faith. It helps us to locate in time the singular moment when our cultural commitment to the teachings of Jesus took place.

We remember the rule of Tiberius, heir to Augustus, and the Herod’s, and Pontius Pilate.

We recall the role that Pilate played in the killing of Jesus, we shout it out at every hour of every day in all parts of the world; that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and buried. This story is told unceasingly and without end.

It is long since time that we, as heirs to the ministry and teaching of Jesus, forgive Pilate for the role he played in that political murder.

John the Baptist taught us to repent, and be forgiven, but Jesus taught us to simply forgive.

Jesus forgave those who killed him he asked God to forgive them when he was up on the cross.

It is time we do the same.

The promise of Isaiah, which John echoed in the wilderness cannot be received unless we do this.

God is the author of our salvation, but we are the agents. It is incumbent on us to proceed with the healing, if the human race is to be healed.

The Second Sunday of Advent