The Unthinkable Thought
"Jesus said, 'It is to those who are worthy of my
Mysteries that I tell my Mysteries.'" ~
The Gospel of Thomas
On the site where the Vatican now stands there once stood a Pagan temple.
Here Pagan priests observed sacred ceremonies which early Christians found
so disturbing that they tried to erase all evidence of them ever having
been practiced. What were these shocking Pagan rites? Gruesome sacrifices
or obscene orgies perhaps. This is what we have been led to believe. But
the truth is far stranger than this fiction.
Where today the gathered faithful revere their Lord Jesus Christ, the
ancients worshipped another godman who, like Jesus, had been miraculously
born on 25 December before three shepherds. In this ancient sanctuary
Pagan congregations once glorified a Pagan redeemer who, like Jesus, was
said to have ascended to heaven and to have promised to come again at the
end of time to judge the quick and the dead. On the same spot where the
Pope celebrates the Catholic mass, Pagan priests also celebrated a
symbolic meal of bread and wine in memory of their savior who, just like
Jesus, had declared:
"He who will not eat of my body and drink of my
blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall
not know salvation."
When we began to uncover such extraordinary similarities between the story
of Jesus and Pagan myth we were stunned. We had been brought up in a
culture which portrays Paganism and Christianity as entirely antagonistic
religious perspectives. How could such astonishing resemblances be
explained? We were intrigued and began to search further. The more we
looked, the more resemblances we found. To account for the wealth of
evidence we were unearthing we felt compelled to completely review our
understanding of the relationship between Paganism and Christianity, to
question beliefs that we previously regarded as unquestionable and to
imagine possibilities which at first seemed impossible. Some readers will
find our conclusions shocking and others heretical, but for us they are
merely the simplest and most obvious way of accounting for the evidence we
We have become convinced that the story of Jesus is not the biography of
an historical Messiah, but a myth based on perennial Pagan stories.
Christianity was not a new and unique revelation but actually a Jewish
adaptation of the ancient Pagan Mystery religion. This is what we have
called 'the Jesus Mysteries Thesis.' It may sound farfetched at first,
just as it did initially to us. There is, after all, a great deal of
unsubstantiated nonsense written about the 'real' Jesus, so any
revolutionary theory should be approached with a healthy dose of
skepticism. But although this book makes extraordinary claims, it is not
just entertaining fantasy or sensational speculation. It is firmly based
upon the available historical sources and the latest scholarly research.
Whilst we hope to have made it accessible to the general reader, we have
also included copious notes giving sources, references and greater detail
for those who wish to analyze our arguments more thoroughly.
Although still radical and challenging today, many of the ideas we explore
are actually far from new. As long ago as the Renaissance, mystics and
scholars saw the origins of Christianity in the ancient Egyptian religion.
Visionary scholars at the turn of the nineteenth century also made
com-paxable conjectures to our own. In recent decades, modern academics
have repeatedly pointed towards the possibilities we consider. Yet few
have dared to boldly state the obvious conclusions which we have drawn.
Why? Because to do so is taboo.
For 2,000 years the West has been dominated by the idea that Christianity
is sacred and unique, whilst Paganism is primitive and the work of the
Devil. To even consider that they could be parts of the same tradition has
been simply unthinkable. Therefore, although the true origins of
Christianity have been obvious all along, few have been able to see them,
because to do so requires a radical break with the conditioning of our
culture. Our contribution has been to dare to think the unthinkable and to
present our conclusions in a popular book rather than some dry academic
tome. This is certainly not the last word on this complex subject, but we
hope it may be a significant call for a complete reappraisal of the
origins of Christianity.
THE PAGAN MYSTERIES
In Greek tragedies the chorus reveals the fate of the protagonists before
the play begins. Sometimes it is easier to understand the journey if one
is already aware of the destination and the terrain to be covered. Before
diving deeper into detail, therefore, we would like to retrace our process
of discovery and so provide a brief overview of the book.
We had shared an obsession with world mysticism all our lives which
recently had led us to explore spirituality in the ancient world. Popular
understanding inevitably lags a long way behind the cutting edge of
scholarly research and, like most people, we initially had an inaccurate
and out-dated view of Paganism. We had been taught to imagine a primitive
superstition which indulged in idol worship and bloody sacrifice, and dry
philosophers wearing togas stumbling blindly towards what we today call
'science.' We were familiar with various Greek myths which showed the
partisan and capricious nature of the Olympian gods and goddesses. All in
all, Paganism seemed primitive and fundamentally alien. After many years
of study, however, our understanding has been transformed.
Pagan spirituality was actually the sophisticated product of a highly
developed culture. The state religions, such as the Greek worship of the
Olympian gods, were little more than outer pomp and ceremony. The real
spirituality of the people expressed itself through the vibrant and
mystical 'Mystery religions.' At first underground and heretical
movements, these Mysteries spread and flourished throughout the ancient
Mediterranean, inspiring the greatest minds of the Pagan world, who
regarded them as the very source of civilization.
Each Mystery tradition had exoteric Outer Mysteries, consisting of myths
which were common knowledge and rituals which were open to anyone who
wanted to participate. There were also esoteric Inner Mysteries, which
were a sacred secret only known to those who had undergone a powerful
process of initiation. Initiates of the Inner Mysteries had the mystical
meaning of the rituals and myths of the Outer Mysteries revealed to them,
a process which brought about personal transformation and spiritual
The philosophers of the ancient world were the spiritual masters of the
Inner Mysteries. They were mystics and miracle-workers, more comparable to
Hindu gurus than dusty academics. The great Greek philosopher Pythagoras,
for example, is remembered today for his mathematical theorem, but few
people picture him as he actually was a flamboyant sage who was believed
to be able to miraculously still the winds and raise the dead.
At the heart of the Mysteries were myths concerning a dying and
resurrecting godman, who was known by many different names. In Egypt he
was Osiris, in Greece Dionysus, in Asia Minor Attis, in Syria Adonis, in
Italy Bacchus, in Persia Mithras. Fundamentally all these godmen are the
same mythical being. As was the practice from as early as the third
century BCE, in this book we will use the combined name "Osiris-Dionysus"
to denote his universal and composite nature, and his particular names
when referring to a specific Mystery tradition.
From the fifth century BCE philosophers such as Xenophanes and Empedocles
had ridiculed taking the stories of the gods and goddesses literally. They
viewed them as allegories of human spiritual experience. The myths of
Osiris-Dionysus should not be understood as just intriguing tales,
therefore, but as a symbolic language which encodes the mystical teachings
of the Inner Mysteries. Because of this, although the details were
developed and adapted over time by different cultures, the myth of
Osiris-Dionysus has remained essentially the same.
The various myths of the different godmen of the Mysteries share what the
great mythologist Joseph Campbell called 'the same anatomy', just as every
human is physically unique yet it is possible to talk of the general
anatomy of the human body, so with these different myths it is possible to
see both their uniqueness and fundamental sameness. A helpful comparison
may be the relationship between Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and
Bernstein's West Side Story. One is a sixteenth-century English tragedy
about wealthy Italian families, whilst the other is a twentieth-century
American musical about street gangs. On the face of it they look very
different, yet they are essentially the same story. Similarly, the tales
told about the godmen of the Pagan Mysteries are essentially the same,
although they take different forms.
The more we studied the various versions of the myth of Osiris-Dionysus,
the more it became obvious that the story of Jesus had all the
characteristics of this perennial tale. Event by event, we found we were
able to construct Jesus' supposed biography from mythic motifs previousl3
relating to Osiris-Dionysus:
- Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh, the savior and 'Son of God'.
- His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin.
- He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on 25 December before three
- He offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites to
- He miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
- He rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while people wave palm
leaves to honor him.
- He dies at Easter time as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
- After his death he descends to hell, then on the third day he rises from
the dead and ascends to heaven in glory.
- His followers await his return as the judge during the Last Days.
- His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and
wine which symbolize his body and blood.
These are just some of the motifs shared between the tales of
Osiris-Dionysus and the 'biography' of Jesus. Why are these remarkable
similarities not common knowledge? Because, as we were to discover later,
the early Roman Church did everything in its power to prevent us
perceiving them. It systematically destroyed Pagan sacred literature in a
brutal program of eradicating the Mysteries -- a task it performed so
completely that today Paganism is regarded as a 'dead' religion.
Although surprising to us now, to writers of the first few centuries CE
these similarities between the new Christian religion and the ancient
Mysteries were extremely obvious. Pagan critics of Christianity, such as
the satirist Celsus, complained that this recent religion was nothing more
than a pale reflection of their own ancient teachings. Early 'Church
fathers,' such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus, were
understandably disturbed and resorted to the desperate claim that these
similarities were the result of 'diabolical mimicry.' Using one of the
most absurd arguments ever advanced, they accused the Devil of 'plagiarism
by anticipation,' of deviously copying the true story of Jesus before it
had actually happened in an attempt to mislead the gullible! These Church
fathers struck us as no less devious than the Devil they hoped to
Other Christian commentators have claimed that the myths of the Mysteries
were like pre-echoes of the literal coming of Jesus, somewhat like
premonitions or prophecies. This is a more generous version of the'
diabolical mimicry' theory, but seemed no less ridiculous to us. There was
nothing other than cultural prejudice to make us see the Jesus story as
the literal culmination of its many mythical precursors. Viewed
impartially, it appeared to be just another version of the same basic
The obvious explanation is that as early Christianity became the dominant
power in the previously Pagan world, popular motifs from Pagan mythology
became grafted onto the biography of Jesus. This is a possibility that is
even put forward by many Christian theologians. The virgin birth, for
example, is often regarded as an extraneous later addition that should not
be understood literally. Such motifs were 'borrowed' from Paganism in the
same way that Pagan festivals were adopted as Christian saints' days. This
theory is common amongst those who go looking for the 'real' Jesus hidden
under the weight of accumulated mythological debris.
Attractive as it appears at first, to us this explanation seemed
inadequate. We had collated such a comprehensive body of similarities that
there remained hardly any significant elements in the biography of Jesus
that we did not find prefigured by the Mysteries. On top of this, we
discovered that even Jesus' teachings were not original, but had been
anticipated by the Pagan sages! If there was a 'real' Jesus somewhere
underneath all this, we would have to acknowledge that we could know
absolutely nothing about him, for all that remained for us was later Pagan
accretions! Such a position seemed absurd. Surely there was a more elegant
solution to this conundrum.
Whilst we were puzzling over these discoveries, we began to question the
received picture of the early Church and have a look at the evidence for
ourselves. We discovered that far from being the united congregation of
saints and martyrs that traditional! history would have us believe, the
early Christian community was actually made up of a whole spectrum of
different groups. These can be broadly categorized into two different
schools. On the one hand there were those we will call 'Literalists',
because what defines them is that they take the Jesus story as a literal
account of historical events. It was this school of Christianity that was
adopted by the Roman Empire in the fourth century CE, becoming Roman
Catholicism and all its subsequent offshoots. On the other hand, however,
there were also radically different Christians known as 'Gnostics.'
These forgotten Christians were later persecuted out of existence by the
Literalist Roman Church with such thoroughness that until recently we knew
little about them except through the writings of their detractors. Only a
handful of original Gnostic texts survived, none of which were published
before the nineteenth century. This situation changed dramatically,
however, with a remarkable discovery in 1945 when an Arab peasant stumbled
upon a whole library of Gnostic gospels hidden in a cave near Nag Hammadi
in Egypt. This gave scholars access to many texts which were in wide
circulation amongst early Christians, but which were deliberately excluded
from the canon of the New Testament -- gospels attributed to Thomas and
Philip, texts recording the acts of Peter and the 12 disciples,
apocalypses attributed to Paul and James, and so on.
It seemed to us extraordinary that a whole library of early Christian
documents could be discovered, containing what purport to be the teachings
of Christ and his disciples, and yet so few modem followers of Jesus
should even know of their existence. Why hasn't every Christian rushed out
to read these newly discovered words of the Master? What keeps them
confined to the small number of gospels selected for inclusion in the New
Testament? It seems that even though 2,000 years have passed since the
Gnostics were purged, during which time the Roman Church has split into
Protestantism and thousands of other alternative groups, the Gnostics are
still not regarded as a legitimate voice of Christianity.
Those who do explore the Gnostic gospels discover a form of Christianity
quite alien to the religion with which they are familiar. We found
ourselves studying strange esoteric tracts with titles such as Hypostasis
of the Archons and The Thought of Norea. It felt as if we were in an
episode of Star Trek -- and in a way we were. The Gnostics truly were
'psychonauts' who boldly explored the final frontiers of inner space,
searching for the origins and meaning of life. These people were mystics
and creative free-thinkers. It was obvious to us why they were so hated by
the bishops of the Literalist Church hierarchy.
To Literalists, the Gnostics were dangerous heretics. In volumes of
anti-Gnostic works -- an unintentional testimony to the power and
influence of Gnosticism within early Christianity -- they painted them as
Christians who had 'gone native.' They claimed they had become
contaminated by the Paganism that surrounded them and had abandoned the
purity of the true faith. The Gnostics, on the other hand, saw themselves
as the authentic Christian tradition and the orthodox bishops as an
'imitation church.' They claimed to know the secret Inner Mysteries of
Christianity which the Literalists did not possess.
As we explored the beliefs and practices of the Gnostics we became
convinced that the Literalists had at least been right about one thing:
the Gnostics were little different from Pagans. Like the philosophers of
the Pagan Mysteries, they believed in reincarnation, honored the goddess
Sophia, and were immersed in the mystical Greek philosophy of Plato.
'Gnostics' means 'Knowers', a name they acquired because, like the
initiates of the Pagan Mysteries, they believed that their secret
teachings had the power to impart 'Gnosis' -- direct experiential
'Knowledge of God.' Just as the goal of a Pagan initiate was to become a
god, so for the Gnostics the goal of the Christian initiate was to become
What particularly struck us was that the Gnostics were not concerned with
the historical Jesus. They viewed the Jesus story in the same way that the
Pagan philosophers viewed the myths of Osiris-Dionysus -- as an allegory
which encoded secret mystical teachings. This insight crystallized for us
a remarkable possibility. Perhaps the explanation for the similarities
between Pagan myths and the biography of Jesus had been staring us in the
face the whole time, but we had been so caught up with traditional ways of
thinking that we had been unable to see it.
THE JESUS MYSTERIES THESIS
The traditional version of history bequeathed to us by the authorities of
the Roman Church is that Christianity developed from the teachings of a
Jewish Messiah and that Gnosticism was a later deviation. What would
happen, we wondered if the picture were reversed and Gnosticism viewed as
the authentic Christianity, just as the Gnostics themselves claimed? Could
it be that orthodox Christianity was a later deviation from Gnosticism and
that Gnosticism was a synthesis of Judaism and the Pagan Mystery religion?
This was the beginning of the Jesus Mysteries Thesis.
Boldly stated, the picture that emerged for us was as follows. We knew
that most ancient Mediterranean cultures had adopted the ancient
Mysteries, adapting them to their own national tastes and creating their
own version of the myth of the dying and resurrecting godman. Perhaps some
of the Jews had likewise adopted the Pagan Mysteries and created their own
version of the Mysteries which we now know as Gnosticism. Perhaps
initiates of the Jewish Mysteries had adapted the potent symbolism of the
Osiris-Dionysus myths into a myth of their own, the hero of which was the
Jewish dying and ~surreeting godman Jesus.
If this was so, then the Jesus story was not a biography at all but a
consciously crafted vehicle for encoded spiritual teachings created by
Jewish Gnostics. As in the Pagan Mysteries, initiation into the Inner
Mysteries would reveal the myth's allegorical meaning. Perhaps those
uninitiated into the Inner Mysteries had mistakenly come to regard the
Jesus myth as historical fact and in this way Literalist Christianity had
been created. Perhaps the Inner Mysteries of Christianity, which the
Gnostics taught but which the Literalists denied existed, revealed that
the Jesus story was not a factual account of God's one and only visit to
planet Earth, but a mystical teaching story designed to help each one of
us become a Christ.
The Jesus story does have all the hallmarks of a myth, so could it be that
that is exactly what it is? After all, no one has read the newly
discovered Gnostic gospels and taken their fantastic stories as literally
true; they are readily seen as myths. It is only familiarity and cultural
prejudice which prevent us from seeing the New Testament gospels in the
same light. If those gospels had also been lost to us and only recently
discovered, who would read these tales for the first time and believe they
were historical accounts of a man born of a virgin, who had walked on
water and returned from the dead? Why should we consider the stories of
Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras and the other Pagan Mystery
saviors as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a
Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from
We had both been raised as Christians and were surprised to find that,
despite years of open-minded spiritual exploration, it still felt somehow
dangerous to even dare think such thoughts. Early indoctrination reaches
very deep. We were in effect saying that Jesus was a Pagan god and that
Christianity was a heretical product of Paganism! It seemed outrageous.
Yet this theory explained the similarities between the stories of
Osiris-Dionysus and Jesus Christ in a simple and elegant way. They are
parts of one developing mythos.
The Jesus Mysteries Thesis answered many puzzling questions, yet it also
opened up new dilemmas. Isn't there indisputable historical evidence for
the existence of Jesus the man? And how could Gnosticism be the original
Christianity when St Paul, the earliest Christian we know about, is so
vociferously anti-Gnostic? And is it really credible that such an insular
and anti-Pagan people as the Jews could have adopted the Pagan Mysteries?
And how could it have happened that a consciously created myth came to be
believed as history? And if Gnosticism represents genuine Christianity,
why was it Literalist Christianity that came to dominate the world as the
most influential religion of all time? All of these difficult questions
would have to be satisfactorily answered before we could wholeheartedly
accept such a radical theory as the Jesus Mysteries Thesis.
THE GREAT COVER UP
Our new account of the origins of Christianity only seemed improbable
because it contradicted the received view. As we pushed further with our
research, the traditional picture began to completely unravel all around
us. We found ourselves embroiled in a world of schism and power straggles,
of forged documents and false identities, of letters that had been edited
and added to, and of the wholesale destruction of historical evidence. We
focused forensically on the few facts we could be confident of, as if we
were detectives on the verge of cracking a sensational 'whodunit', or
perhaps more accurately as if we were uncovering an ancient and
unacknowledged miscarriage of justice. For, time and again, when we
critically examined what genuine evidence remained, we found that the
history of Christianity bequeathed to us by the Roman Church was a gross
distortion of the truth. Actually the evidence completely endorsed the
Jesus Mysteries Thesis! It was becoming increasingly obvious that we had
been deliberately deceived, that the Gnostics were indeed the original
Christians, and that their anarchic mysticism had been hijacked by an
authoritarian institution which had created from it a dogmatic religion -
and then brutally enforced the greatest cover-up in history.
One of the major players in this cover-up operation was a character called
Eusebius, who, at the beginning of the fourth century, compiled from
legends, fabrications and his own imagination the only early history of
Christianity that still exists today. All subsequent histories have been
forced to base themselves on Eusebins' dubious claims, because there has
been little other information to draw on. All those with a different
perspective on Christianity were branded as heretics and eradicated. In
this way falsehoods compiled in the fourth century have come down to us as
Eusebius was employed by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who made
Christianity the state religion of the Empire and gave Literalist
Christianity the power it needed to begin the final eradication of
Paganism and Gnosticism. Constantine wanted 'one God, one religion' to
consolidate his claim of 'one Empire, one Emperor.' He oversaw the
creation of the Nicene creed -- the article of faith repeated in churches
to this day -- and Christians who refused to assent to this creed were
banished from the Empire or otherwise silenced.
This 'Christian' Emperor then returned home from Nicaea and had his wife
suffocated and his son murdered. He deliberately remained unbaptized until
his deathbed so that he could continue his atrocities and still receive
forgiveness of sins and a guaranteed place in heaven by being baptized at
the last moment. Although he had his 'spin doctor' Eusebius compose a
suitably obsequious biography for him, he was actually a monster -- just
like many Roman Emperors before him. Is it really at all surprising that a
'history' of the origins of Christianity created by an employee in the
service of a Roman tyrant should turn out to be a pack of lies?
Elaine PageIs, one of the foremost academic authorities on early
"It is the winners who write history -- their way. No wonder, then, that
the traditional accounts of the origins of Christianity first defined the
terms (naming themselves "orthodox" and their opponents "heretics"); then
they proceeded to demonstrate -- at least to their own satisfaction --
that their triumph was historically inevitable, or, in religious terms,
"guided by the Holy Spirit." But the discoveries [of the Gnostic gospels]
at Nag Hammadi reopen fundamental questions."
History is indeed written by the victors. The creation of an appropriate
history has always been part of the arsenal of political manipulation. The
Roman Church created a history of the triumph of Literalist Christianity
in much the same partisan way that, two millennia later, Hollywood created
tales of 'cowboys and Indians' to relate 'how the West was won' not 'how
the West was lost.' History is not simply related, it is created. Ideally,
the motivation is to explain historical evidence and come to an accurate
understanding of how the present has been created by the past. All too
often, however, it is simply to glorify and justify the status quo. Such
histories conceal as much as they reveal.
To dare to question a received history is not easy. It is difficult to
believe that something which you have been told is true from childhood
could actually be a product of falsification and fantasy. It must have
been hard for those Russians brought up on tales of kindly 'Uncle Joe'
Stalin to accept that he was actually responsible for the deaths of
millions. It must have strained credibility when those opposing his regime
claimed that he had in fact murdered many of the heroes of the Russian
revolution. It must have seemed ridiculous when they asserted that he had
even had the images of his rivals removed from photographs and completely
fabricated historical events. Yet all these things are true.
It is easy to believe that something must be true because everyone else
believes it. But the truth often only comes to light by daring to question
the unquestionable, by doubting notions which are so commonly believed
that they are taken for granted. The Jesus Mysteries Thesis is the product
of such an openness of mind. When it first occurred to us, it seemed
absurd and impossible. Now it seems obvious and ordinary. The Vatican was
constructed upon the site of an ancient Pagan sanctuary because the new is
always built upon the old. In the same way Christianity itself has as its
foundations the Pagan spirituality that preceded it. What is more
plausible than to posit the gradual evolution of spiritual ideas, with
Christianity emerging from the ancient Pagan Mysteries in a seamless
historical continuum? It is only because the conventional history has been
so widely believed for so long that this idea could be seen as heretical
RECOVERING MYSTICAL CHRISTIANITY
As the final pieces of the puzzle were falling into place, we came across
a small picture tucked away in the appendices of an old academic book. It
was a drawing of a third-century CE amulet. We have used it as the cover
of this book. It shows a crucified figure which most people would
immediately recognize as Jesus. Yet the Greek words name the figure
'Orpheus Bacchus,' one of the pseudonyms of Osiris-Dionysus. To the author
of the book in which we found the picture, this amulet was an anomaly. Who
could it have possibly belonged to? Was it a crucified Pagan deity or some
sort of Gnostic synthesis of Paganism and Christianity? Either way it was
deeply puzzling. For us, however, this amulet was perfectly
understandable. It was an unexpected confirmation of the Jesus Mysteries
Thesis. The image could be that of either Jesus or Osiris-Dionysus. To the
initiated, these were both names for essentially the same figure.
The 'chance' discovery of this amulet made us feel as though the universe
itself was encouraging us to make our findings public. In different ways
the Jesus Mysteries Thesis has been proposed by mystics and scholars for
centuries, but has always ended up being ignored. It now felt like an idea
whose moment had come. We did, however, have misgivings about writing this
book. We knew that it would inevitably upset certain Christians, something
which we had no desire to do. Certainly it has been hard to be constantly
surrounded by lies and injustices without experiencing a certain amount of
outrage at the negative misrepresentation of the Gnostics, and to have
become aware of the great riches of Pagan culture without feeling grief
that they were so wantonly destroyed. Yet we do not have some sort of
anti-Christian agenda. Far from it.
Those who have read our other works will know that our interest is not in
further division, but in acknowledging the unity that lies at the heart of
all spiritual traditions -- and this present book is no exception. Early
Literalist Christians mistakenly believed that the Jesus story was
different from other stories of Osiris-Dionysus because Jesus alone had
been an historical rather than a mythical figure. This has left Christians
feeling that their faith is in opposition to all others -- which it is
not. We hope that by understanding its true origins in the ongoing
evolution of a universal human spirituality, Christianity may be able to
free itself from this self-imposed isolation.
Whilst the Jesus Mysteries Thesis clearly rewrites history, we do not see
it as undermining the Christian faith, but as suggesting that Christianity
is in fact richer than we previously imagined. The Jesus story is a
perennial myth with the power to impart the saving Gnosis which can
transform each one of us into a Christ, not merely a history of events
that happened to someone else 2,000 years ago. Belief in the Jesus story
was originally the first step in Christian spirituality -- the Outer
Mysteries. Its significance was to be explained by an enlightened teacher
when the seeker was spiritually ripe. These Inner Mysteries imparted a
mystical Knowledge of God beyond mere belief in dogmas. Although many
inspired Christian mystics throughout history have intuitively seen
through to this deeper symbolic level of understanding, as a culture we
have inherited only the Outer Mysteries of Christianity. We have kept the
form, but lost the inner meaning. Our hope is that this book can play some
small part in reclaiming the true mystical Christian inheritance.
The Pagan Mysteries
"Blest is the happy man
Who knows the Mysteries the gods ordain,
And sanctifies his life,
Joins soul with soul in mystic unity,
And, by due ritual made pure
Enters the ecstasy of mountain solitudes;
Who observes the mystic rites
Made lawful by the Great Mother;
Who crowns his head with ivy,
And shakes his wand in worship of Dionysus." Euripides
Paganism is a 'dead' religion -- or more accurately an 'exterminated'
religion· It did not simply fade away into oblivion. It was actively
suppressed and annihilated, its temples and shrines desecrated and
demolished, and its great sacred books thrown onto bonfires. No living
lineage has been left to explain its ancient beliefs. So, the Pagan
worldview has to be reconstructed from the archaeological evidence and
texts that have survived, like some giant metaphysical jigsaw puzzle.
'Pagan' was originally a derogatory term meaning 'country-dweller,' used
by Christians to infer that the spirituality of the ancients was some
primitive rural superstition. But this is not true. Paganism was the
spirituality which inspired the unequalled magnificence of the Giza
pyramids, the exquisite architecture of the Parthenon, the legendary
sculptures of Phideas, the powerful plays of Euripides and Sophocles, and
the sublime philosophy of Socrates and Plato.
Pagan civilization built vast libraries to house hundreds of thousands of
works of literary and scientific genius. Its natural philosophers
speculated that human beings had evolved from animals. Its astronomers
knew the Earth was a sphere which, along with the planets, revolves around
the sun. They had even estimated its circumference to within one degree of
accuracy? The ancient Pagan world sustained a population not matched again
in Europe until the eighteenth century. In Greece, Pagan culture gave
birth to the concepts of democracy, rational philosophy, public libraries,
theatre and the Olympic Games, creating a blueprint for our modern world.
What was the spirituality that inspired these momentous cultural
Most people associate Paganism with either rustic witchcraft or the myths
of the gods of Olympus as recorded by Hesiod and Homer. Pagan spirituality
did indeed embrace both. The country people practiced their traditional
shamanic nature worship to maintain the fertility of the land and the city
authorities propped up formal state religions, such as the worship of the
Olympian gods, to maintain the power of the status quo.
It was, however, a third, more mystical, expression of the Pagan spirit
which inspired the great minds of the ancient world. The thinkers, artists
and innovators of antiquity were initiates of various religions known as
'Mysteries.' These remarkable men and women held the Mysteries to be the
heart and soul of their culture. The Greek historian Zosimos writes that
without the Mysteries "life for the Greeks would be unlivable" for "the
sacred Mysteries hold the whole human race together." The eminent Roman
statesman Cicero enthuses:
"These Mysteries have brought us from rustic savagery to a cultivated and
refined civilization. The rites of the Mysteries are called "initiations"
and in truth we have learned from them the first principles of life. We
have gained the understanding not only to live happily but also to die
with better hope."
Unlike the traditional rituals of the official state religions, which were
designed to aid social cohesion, the mysteries were an individualistic
form of. spirituality which offered mystical visions and personal
enlightenment. Initiates underwent a secret process of initiation which
profoundly trans-r formed their state of consciousness. The poet Pindar
reveals that an initiate into the Mysteries "knows the end of life and its
God-given beginning." Lucius Apuleius, a poet-philosopher, writes of his
experience of initiation as a spiritual rebirth which he celebrated as his
birthday, an experience for which he felt a "debt of gratitude" that he
"could never hope to repay." Plato, the most influential philosopher of
all time, relates:
"We beheld the beatific visions and were initiated into the Mystery which
may be truly called blessed, celebrated by us in a state of innocence. We
beheld calm, happy, simple, eternal visions, resplendent in pure light."
The great Pagan philosophers were the enlightened masters of the
Mysteries. Although they are often portrayed today as dry 'academic'
intellectuals, they were actually enigmatic 'gurus.' Empedocles, like his
master Pythagoras, was a charismatic miracle-worker. Socrates was an
eccentric mystic prone to being suddenly overcome by states of rapture
during which his friends would discover him staring off into space for
hours. Heraclitus was asked by the citizens of Ephesus to become a
lawmaker, but turned the offer down so that he could continue playing with
the children in the temple. Anaxagoras shocked ordinary citizens by
completely abandoning his farm to fully devote his life to "the higher
philosophy." Diogenes owned nothing and lived in a jar at the entrance of
a temple. The inspired playwright Euripides wrote his greatest tragedies
during solitary retreats in an isolated cave.
All of these idiosyncratic sages were steeped in the mysticism of the
Mysteries, which they expressed in their philosophy. Olympiodorus, a
follower of Plato, tells us that his master paraphrased the Mysteries
everywhere. The works of Heraclites were renowned even in ancient times
for being obscure and impenetrable, yet Diogenes explains that they are
crystal clear to an initiate of the Mysteries. Of studying Heraclites he
"It is a hard road to follow, filled with darkness and gloom; but if an
initiate leads you on the way, it becomes brighter than the radiance of
At the heart of Pagan philosophy is an understanding that all things are
One. The Mysteries aimed at awakening within the initiate a sublime
experience of this Oneness. Sallustius declares: "Every initiation aims at
uniting us with the World and with the Deity." Plotinus describes the
initiate transcending his limited sense of himself as a separate ego and
experiencing mystical union with God:
"As if borne away, or possessed by a god, he attains to solitude in
untroubled stillness, nowhere deflected in his being and unbruised with
self, utterly at rest and become very rest. He does not converse with a
statue or image but with Godhead itself. And this is no object of vision,
but another mode of seeing, a detachment from self, a simplification and
surrender of self, a yearning for contact, and a stillness and meditation
directed towards transformation. Whoever sees himself in this way has
attained likeness to God; let him abandon himself and find the end of his
No wonder the initiate Sopatros poetically mused, "I came out of the
Mystery Hall feeling like a stranger to myself."
THE SACRED SPECTACLE AT ELEUSIS
What were these ancient Mysteries that could inspire such reverent awe and
heartfelt appreciation? The Mystery religion was practiced for thousands
of years, during which time it spread throughout the ancient world, taking
on many different forms. Some were frenzied and others meditative. Some
involved bloody animal sacrifice, while others were presided over by
strict vegetarians, At certain moments in history the Mysteries were
openly practiced by whole populations and were endorsed, or at least
tolerated, by the state. At other times they were a small-scale and
secretive affair, for fear of persecution by unsympathetic authorities.
Central tail of these forms of the Mysteries, however, was the myth of a
dying and resurrecting godman. The Greek Mysteries celebrated at Eleusis
in honor of the Great Mother goddess and the godman Dionysus were the most
famous of all the Mystery cults. The sanctuary of Eleusis was finally
destroyed by bands of fanatical Christian monks in 396 CE, but up until
this tragic act of vandalism the Mysteries had been celebrated there for
over 11 centuries. At the height of their popularity people were coming
from all over the then known world to be initiated: men and women, rich
and poor, slaves and emperors -- even a Brahmin priest from India.
Each year some 30,000 Athenian citizens embarked on a 30-kilometre
barefoot pilgrimage to the sacred site of Eleusis on the coast to
celebrate the autumn Mysteries of Dionysus. For days they would have been
preparing for this important religious event by fasting, offering
sacrifices and undergoing ritual purification. As those about to be
initiated danced along the 'Sacred Way' to Eleusis, accompanied by the
frenzied beat of cymbals and tambourines, they were accosted by masked men
who abused and insulted them, while others beat them with sticks. At the
head of the procession was carried the statue of Dionysus himself, leading
them ever onward. After ritual naked bathing in the sea and other
purification ceremonies the crowd reached the great doors of the
Telesterion, a huge purpose-built initiation hall. Only the chosen few who
were already initiated or about to be initiated into the secret Mysteries
could enter here.
What awesome ceremony was held behind these closed doors that touched the
great philosophers, artists, statesmen and scientists of the ancient world
so deeply? All initiates were sworn to secrecy and held the Mysteries so
sacred that they kept this oath. From large numbers of hints and clues,
however, we know that they witnessed a sublime theatrical spectacle. They
were awed by sounds and dazzled by lights. They were bathed in the blaze
of a huge fire and trembled to the nerve-shattering reverberations of a
mighty gong. The Hierophant, the high priest of the Mysteries, was quite
literally a 'showman' who orchestrated a terrifyingly transformative
dramatic reenactment of sacred myth. He himself was dressed as the central
character - the godman Dionysus.
A modern scholar writes:
"A Mystery Religion was thus a divine drama which portrayed before the
wondering eyes of the privileged observers the story of the struggles,
sufferings, and victory of a patron deity, the travail of nature in which
life ultimately triumphs over death, and joy is born of pain. The whole
ritual of the Mysteries aimed especially at quickening the emotional life.
No means of exciting the emotions was neglected in the passion-play,
either by way of inducing careful predispositions or of supplying external
stimulus. Tense mental anticipations heightened by a period of abstinence,
hushed silences, imposing processions and elaborate pageantry, music loud
and violent or soft and enthralling, delirious dances, the drinking of
spirituous liquors, physical macerations, alternations of dense darkness
and dazzling light, the sight of gorgeous ceremonial vestments, the
handling of holy emblems, auto-suggestion and the promptings of the
Hierophant -- these and many secrets of emotional exaltation were in
This dramatization of the myth of Dionysus is the origin of tragedy and
theatre. But the initiates were not a passive audience. They were
participants who shared in the passion of the godman whose death and
rebirth symbolically represented the death and spiritual rebirth of each
one of them. As a modern authority explains:
"Dionysus was the god of the most blessed ecstasy and the most enraptured
love. But he was also the persecuted god, the suffering and dying god, and
all whom he loved, all who attended him, had to share his tragic fate."
By witnessing the awesome tragedy of Dionysus, the initiates at Eleusis
shared in his suffering, death and resurrection, and so experienced a
spiritual purification known as 'catharsis.'
The Mysteries did not offer religious dogmas to simply be believed, but a
myth to be entered into. Initiation was not about learning something, but
about experiencing an altered state of awareness. Plutarch, a Pagan high
priest, confesses that those who had been initiated could produce no proof
of the beliefs that they acquired. Aristotle maintains, "It is not
necessary for the initiated to learn anything, but to receive impressions
and to be put in a certain frame of mind." The philosopher Produs talks of
the Mysteries as evoking a "sympathy of the soul with the ritual in a way
that is unintelligible to us and divine, so that some of the initiates axe
stricken with panic, being filled with divine awe; others assimilate
themselves to the holy symbols, leave their own identity, become at home
with the gods, afford experience divine possession."
Why did the myth enacted by the Mysteries have such a profound effect?
ENCODED SECRET TEACHINGS
In antiquity the word mythos did not mean something 'untrue as it does (
for us today. Superficially a myth was an entertaining story, but to the
initiated it was a sacred code that contained profound spiritual
teachings. Plato comments, "It looks as if those also who established
rites of initiation for us were no fools, but that there is a hidden
meaning in their teachings." He explains that it is "those who have given
their lives to true philosophy" who will grasp the "hidden meaning"
encoded in the Mystery myths, and so become completely identified with the
godman in an experience of mystical enlightenment.
The ancient philosophers were not so foolish as to believe that the
Mystery myths were literally true, but wise enough to recognize that they
were an easy introduction to the profound mystical philosophy at the heart
of the Mysteries. Sallustius writes:
"To wish to teach all men the truth of the gods causes the foolish to
despise, because they cannot learn, and the good to be slothful, whereas
to conceal the truth by myths prevents the former from despising
philosophy and compels the latter to study it."
It was the role of the priests and philosophers of the Mysteries to decode
the hidden depths of spiritual meaning contained within the Mystery myths.
Heliodorus, a priest of the Mysteries, explains:
"Philosophers and theologians do not disclose the meanings embedded in
these stories to laymen but simply give them preliminary instruction in
the form of a myth. But those who have reached the higher grades of the
Mysteries they initiate into clear knowledge in the privacy of the holy
shrine, in the light cast by the blazing torch of truth."
The Mysteries were divided into various levels of initiation, which led an
initiate step by step through ever deepening levels of understanding. The
number of levels of initiation varied in different Mystery traditions, but
essentially the initiate was led from the Outer Mysteries, in which the
myths were understood superficially as religious stories, to the Inner
Mysteries, in which the myths were revealed as spiritual allegories. First
the initiate was ritually purified. Then they were taught the secret
teachings on a one-to-one basis. The highest stage was when the initiate
understood the true meaning of the teachings and finally experienced what
Theon of Smyrna calls "friendship and interior communion with God."
THE INTERNATIONAL MYSTERIES
The Mysteries dominated the Pagan world. No other deity is represented on
the monuments of ancient Greece and Italy as much as Dionysus, godman of
the Eleusinian Mysteries. He is a deity with many names: Iacchos,
Bassareus, Bromios, Euios, Sabazius, Zagreus, Yhyoneus, Lenaios,
Eleuthereus, and so the list goes on. But these are just some of his Greek
names! The godman is an omnipresent mythic figure throughout the ancient
Mediterranean, known in different ways by many cultures.
Five centuries before the birth of Christ, the Greek historian Herodotus,
known as 'the father of history', discovered this when he traveled to
Egypt. On the shores of a sacred lake in the Nile delta he witnessed an
enormous festival, held every year, in which the Egyptians performed a
dramatic spectacle before "tens of thousands of men and women,"
representing the death and resurrection of Osiris. Herodotus was an
initiate into the Greek Mysteries and recognized that what he calls "the
Passion of Osiris" was the very same drama that initiates saw enacted
before them at Eleusis as the Passion of Dionysus. The Egyptian myth of
Osiris is the primal myth of the Mystery godman and reaches back to
prehistory. His story is so ancient that it can be found in pyramid texts
written over 4,500 years ago!
In traveling to Egypt Herodotus was following in the footsteps of another
great Greek. Before 670 BCE Egypt had been a closed country, in the manner
of Tibet, or Japan more recently, but in this year she opened her borders
and one of the first Greeks who traveled there in search of ancient wisdom
was Pythagoras. History remembers Pythagoras as the first 'scientist' of
the Western world, but although it is true that he brought back many
mathematical theories to Greece from Egypt, to his contemporaries he would
have seemed anything but 'scientific' in the modern sense.
A wandering charismatic sage dressed in white robes and crowned with a
gold coronet, Pythagoras was part scientist, part priest and part
magician. He spent 22 years in the temples of Egypt, becoming an initiate
of the ancient Egyptian Mysteries. On returning to Greece he began to
preach the wisdom he had learned, performing miracles, raising the dead
and giving oracles.
Inspired by Pythagoras, his disciples created a Greek Mystery religion
modeled on the Egyptian Mysteries. They took the indigenous wine god
Dionysus, who was a minor deity all but ignored by Hesiod and Homer, and
transformed him into a Greek version of the mighty Egyptian Osiris, godman
of the Mysteries. This initiated a religious and cultural revolution that
was to transform Athens into the centre of the civilized world.
The followers of Pythagoras were models of virtue and learning, regarded
as puritans by their neighbors. Strict vegetarians, they preached
non-violence towards all living things and shunned the temple cults that
practiced the sacrifice of animals. This made it impossible for them to
participate in the traditional Olympian religion of Athens. Forced to live
on the fringes of acceptability, they often organized themselves into
communities that shared all possessions in common, leaving them free to
devote themselves to their mystical studies of mathematics, music,
astronomy and philosophy. Nevertheless, the Mystery religion spread
quickly amongst the ordinary people and within a few generations the
Egyptian Mysteries of Osiris, now the Mysteries of Dionysus, inspired the
glory of Classical Athens.
In the same way that Osiris was synthesized by the Greeks with their
indigenous god Dionysus to create the Greek Mysteries, other Mediterranean
cultures which adopted the Mystery religion also transformed one of their
indigenous deities into the dying and resurrecting Mystery godman. So, the
deity who was known as Osiris in Egypt and became Dionysus in Greece was
called Attis in Asia Minor, Adonis in Syria, Bacchus in Italy, Mithras in
Persia, and so on. His forms were many, but essentially he was the same
perennial figure, whose collective identity was referred to as
Because the ancients recognized that all the various Mystery godmen were
essentially the same mythic being, elements from different myths and rites
were continually combined and recombined to create new forms of the
Mysteries. In Alexandria, for example, a charismatic sage called Timotheus
consciously fused Osiris and Dionysus to produce a new deity for the city
called Serapis. He also gave an elaborate account of the myth of the
Mystery godman Attis. Lucius Apuleius received his initiation into the
Mysteries from a high priest named after the Persian godman Mithras. Coins
were minted with Dionysus represented on one side and Mithras on the
other? One modern authority tells us that "possessed by the knowledge of
his own secret rites," the initiate of the Mysteries "found no difficulty
in conforming to any religion in vogue." Like the Christian religion which
superseded it, the Mysteries reached across national boundaries, offering
a spirituality which was relevant to all human beings, regardless of their
racial origins or social status. Even as early as the fifth century CE
philosophers such as Diogenes and Socrates called themselves
"cosmopolitans' -- "citizens of the cosmos" -- rather than of any
particular country or culture, which is testimony to the international
nature of the Mysteries.
One modern scholar, commenting on the merging and combining of different
mystery traditions, writes:
"This went a long way towards weaning the minds of men from the idea of
separate gods from the different nations, and towards teaching them that
all national and local deities were but different forms of one great
Power. But for the rise of Christianity and other religions, there can be
little doubt but that the whole of the Greco-Roman deities would
continually have merged into Dionysus."
OSIRIS-DIONYSUS AND JESUS CHRIST
Osiris-Dionysus had such universal appeal because he was seen as an
'Everyman' figure who symbolically represented each initiate. Through
understanding the allegorical myth of the Mystery godman, initiates could
become aware that, like Osiris-Dionysus, they were also 'God made flesh.'
They too were immortal Spirit trapped within a physical body. Through
sharing in the death of Osiris-Dionysus initiates symbolically 'died' to
their lower earthly nature. Through sharing in his resurrection they were
spiritually reborn and experienced their eternal and divine essence. This
was the profound mystical teaching that the myth of Osiris-Dionysus
encoded for those initiated into the Inner Mysteries, the truth of which
initiates directly experienced for themselves.
Writing of the Egyptian Mystery godman Osiris, Sir Wallis Budge, who was
keeper of antiquities in the British Museum, explains:
"The Egyptians of every period in which they are known to us believed that
Osiris was of divine origin, that he suffered death and mutilation at the
hands of the power of evil, that after great struggle with these powers he
rose again, that he became henceforth the king of the underworld and judge
of the dead, and that because he had conquered death the righteous might
also conquer death.
"He represented to men the idea of a man who was both God and man, and he
typified to the Egyptians in all ages the being who by reason of his
sufferings and death as a man could sympathies with them in their own
sickness and death. The idea of his human personality also satisfied their
cravings and yearnings for communion with a being who, though he was
partly divine, yet had much in common with themselves. Originally they
looked upon Osiris as a man who lived on the earth as they lived, who ate
and drank, who suffered a cruel death, who by help of certain gods
triumphed over death, and attained unto everlasting life. But what Osiris
did they could also do."
These are the key motifs that characterize the myths of all the Mystery
godmen. What Budge writes of Osiris could equally be said of Dionysus,
Attis, Adonis, Mithras and the rest. It also describes the Jewish dying
and resurrecting godman Jesus Christ. Like Osiris-Dionysus, he is also God
Incarnate and God of the Resurrection. He also promises his followers
spiritual rebirth through sharing in his divine Passion.
The Mysteries were clearly an extremely powerful force in the ancient
world. Let's review what we've discovered about them:
- The Pagan Mysteries inspired the greatest minds of the ancient world.
- They were practiced in different forms by nearly every culture in the
- They comprised Outer Mysteries which were open to all and secret Inner
Mysteries known only to those who had undergone a powerful process of
- At the heart of the Mysteries was the myth of a dying and resurrecting
godman - Osiris-Dionysus.
- The Inner Mysteries revealed the myths of Osiris-Dionysus to be
spiritual allegories encoding spiritual teachings.
The question which intrigued us was whether the Mysteries could have
somehow influenced and shaped what we have inherited as the "biography" of
Jesus? Unlike the various Pagan Mystery godmen, Jesus is traditionally
viewed as an historical rather than a mythical figure, literally a man who
was an incarnation of God, who suffered, died and resurrected to bring
salvation to all humankind. But could these elements of the Jesus story
actually be mythical stories inherited from the Pagan Mysteries?
We began investigating the myths of Osiris-Dionysus more closely,
searching for resemblances with the Jesus story. We were not prepared for
the overwhelming number of similarities that we uncovered.
"Having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to
come and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, the
wicked spirits put forward many to be called Sons of God, under the
impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the
things that were said with regard to Christ were merely marvelous tales,
like the things that were said by the poets." Justin Martyr
Although the remarkable similarities between the myths of Osiris-Dionysus
and the supposed "biography" of Jesus Christ are generally unknown today,
in the first few centuries CE they were obvious to Pagans and Christians
alike. The Pagan philosopher and satirist Celsus criticized Christians for
trying to pass off the Jesus story as a new revelation when it was
actually an inferior imitation of Pagan myths. He asks:
"Are these distinctive happenings unique to the Christians -- and if so,
how are they unique? Or are ours to be accounted myths and theirs
believed? What reasons do the Christians give for the distinctiveness of
their beliefs? In truth there is nothing at all unusual about what the
Christians believe, except that they believe it to the exclusion of more
comprehensive truths about God."
The early Christians were painfully aware of such criticisms. How could
Pagan myths which predated Christianity by hundreds of years have so much
in common with the biography of the one and only savior Jesus? Desperate
to come up with an explanation, the Church fathers resorted to one of the
most absurd theories ever advanced. From the time of Justin Martyr in the
second century onwards, they declared that the Devil had plagiarized
Christianity by anticipation in order to lead people astray? Knowing that
the true Son of God was to literally come and walk the Earth, the Devil
had copied the story of his life in advance of it happening and created
the myths of Osiris-Dionysus.
The Church father Tertullian writes of the Devil's "diabolical mimicry" in
creating the Mysteries of Mithras:
"The devil, whose business is to pervert the truth, mimics the exact
circumstances of the Divine Sacraments. He baptizes his believers and
promises forgiveness of sins from the Sacred Fount, and thereby initiates
them into the religion of Mithras. Thus he celebrates the oblation of
bread, and brings in the symbol of the resurrection. Let us therefore
acknowledge the craftiness of the devil, who copies certain things of
those that be Divine."
Studying the myths of the Mysteries it becomes obvious why these early
Christians resorted to such a desperate explanation. Although no single
Pagan myth completely parallels the story of Jesus, the mythic motifs
which make up the story of the Jewish godman had already existed for
centuries in the various stories told of Osiris-Dionysus and his greatest
prophets. Let's make a journey through the 'biography' of Jesus and
explore some of these extraordinary similarities.
SON OF GOD
Despite Christianity's claim that Jesus is the "only begotten Son of God."
Osiris-Dionysus, in all his many forms, is also hailed as the Son of God.
Jesus is the Son of God, yet equal with the Father. Dionysus is the "Son
of Zeus, in his full nature God, most terrible, although most gentle to
mankind." Jesus is "Very God of Very God." Dionysus is "Lord God of God
born." Jesus is God in human form. St John writes of Jesus as "the Word
made flesh." St. Paul explains that "God sent his own Son in the likeness
of sinful flesh? Dionysus was also known as Bacchus, hence the title of
Euripides' play The Bacchae, in which Dionysus is the central character.
In this play, Dionysus explains that he has veiled his "Godhead in a
mortal shape" in order to make it "manifest to mortal men.. He tells his
disciples, "That is why I have changed my immortal form and taken the
likeness of man."
Like Jesus, in many of his myths the Pagan godman is born of a mortal
virgin mother. In Asia Minor, Attis' mother is the virgin Cybele. In
Syria, Adonis' virgin mother is called Myrrh. In Alexandria, Aion is born
of the virgin Kore. In Greece, Dionysus is born of a mortal virgin Semele
who wishes to see Zeus in all his glory and is mysteriously impregnated by
one of his bolts of lightning.
It was a popular tradition, recorded in the most quoted non-canonical text
of early Christianity, that Jesus spent only seven months in Mary's womb.
The Pagan historian Diodorus relates that Dionysus' mother Semele likewise
was said to have also had only a seven-month pregnancy.
Justin Martyr acknowledges the similarities between Jesus' virgin birth
and Pagan mythology, writing:
"In saying that the Word was born for us without
sexual union as Jesus Christ our teacher, we introduce nothing beyond what
is said of those called the Sons of Zeus."
Nowhere was the myth of the 'Son of God' more developed than in Egypt, the
ancient home of the Mysteries. Even the Christian Lactantius acknowledged
that the legendary Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus had "arrived in some
way at the truth, for on God the Father he had said everything, and on the
Son." In Egypt, the Pharaoh had for thousands of years been regarded as an
embodiment of the godman Osiris and praised in hymns as the Son of God. As
an eminent Egyptologist writes,
"Every Pharaoh had to be the Son of God and a
human mother in order that he should be the Incarnate God, the Giver of
Fertility to his country and people."
In many legends the great prophets of Osiris-Dionysus are also portrayed
as saviors and sons of God. Pythagoras was said to be the son of Apollo
and a mortal woman called Parthenis, whose name derives from the word
parthenos, meaning "virgin." Plato was also posthumously believed to be
the son of Apollo. Philostratus relates in his biography of Apollonius
that the great Pagan sage was regarded as the "Son of Zeus." Empedocles
was thought to be a godman and savior who had come down to this world to
help confused souls, becoming "like a madman, calling out to people at the
top of his voice and urging them to reject this realm and what is in it
and go back to their own original, sublime, and noble word."
Mythic motifs from the Mysteries even became associated with Roman
Emperors who, for political reasons, cultivated legends about their divine
nature which would link them to Osiris-Dionysus. Julius Caesar, who did
not himself even believe in personal immortality, was hailed as "God made
manifest, the common savior of human life." His successor, Augustus, was
likewise the "savior of the universal human race." and even the tyrannical
Nero is addressed on an altar piece as "God the deliverer for ever."
In 40 BCE, drawing on Mystery myths, the Roman poet and initiate Virgil
wrote a mystical 'prophesy' that a virgin would give birth to a divine
child. In the fourth century CE Literalist Christians would claim that it
foretold the coming of ]esus, but at the time this myth was interpreted as
referring to Augustus, said to be the "Son of Apollo," preordained to rule
the Earth and bring peace and prosperity. In his biography of Augustus,
Suetonius offers a cluster of 'signs' that indicated the Emperor's divine
nature. One modern authority writes:
"They include some striking points of similarity to the gospel narratives
of the birth of Christ. The senate is supposed, with ludicrous
implausibility, to have decreed a ban on rearing male Roman babies in the
year of Augustus' birth because of a portent indicating that a king of
Rome had been born. On top of this slaughter of the innocents, we are
offered an Annunciation: his mother Aria dreamed during a visit to the
temple of Apollo that the god had visited his favor on her in the form of
snake; Augustus was born nine months later."
An inscription written around the time that Jesus
is supposed to have lived reads:
"This day has given the earth an entirely new aspect. The world would have
gone to destruction had there not streamed forth from him who is now born
a common blessing. Rightly does he judge who recognizes in this birthday
the beginning of life; now is that time ended when men pitied themselves
for being born. From no other day does the individual or the community
receive such benefit as from this natal day, full of blessing to all. The
Providence which rules over all has filled this man with such gifts for
the salvation of the world as designate him as savior for us and for the
coming generations; of wars he will make an end, and establish all things
worthily. By his appearing are the hopes of our forefathers fulfilled; not
only has he surpassed the good deeds of earlier times, but it is
impossible that one greater than he can ever appear. The birthday of God
has brought to the world glad tidings that are bound up in him. From his
birthday a new era begins."
But this is not a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is not
even a eulogy to the Mystery godman. It is in honor of Augustus. These
mythic motifs were clearly so common by the first century BCE that they
were used to fabricate legends politically helpful to a living Emperor.
Celsus catalogues numbers of figures to whom legend similarly attributes
divine parentage and a miraculous birth, and accuses Christianity of
clearly using Pagan myths "in fabricating the story of Jesus' virgin
birth." He is disparaging of Christians who interpret this myth as
historical fact and regards the notion that God could literally father a
child on a mortal woman as plainly absurd.
Either the Devil really has perfected the art of
diabolical mimicry or there is a mystery to solve here. Let's review the
- Jesus is the savior of mankind, God made man, the Son of God equal with
the Father; so is Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus is born of a mortal virgin who after her death ascends to heaven
and is honored as a divine being; so is Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus is born in a cave on 25 December or 6 January, as is
- The birth of Jesus is prophesied by a star; so is the birth of
- Jesus is born in Bethlehem, which was shaded by a grove sacred to
- Jesus is visited by the Magi, who are followers of Osiris-Dionysus.
- The Magi bring Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which a
sixth-century BCE Pagan tells us is the way to worship God.
- Jesus is baptized, a ritual practiced for centuries in the Mysteries.
- The holy man who baptizes Jesus with water has the same name as a Pagan
god of water and is born on the summer solstice celebrated as a Pagan
- Jesus offers his followers elemental baptisms of water, air and fire, as
did the Pagan Mysteries.
- Jesus is portrayed as a quiet man with long hair and a beard; so is
- Jesus turns water into wine at a marriage on the same day that
Osiris-Dionysus was previously believed to have turned water into wine at
- Jesus heals the sick, exorcises demons, provides miraculous meals, helps
fishermen make miraculous catches of fish and calms the water for his
disciples; all of these marvels had previously been performed by Pagan
- Like the sages of the Mysteries, Jesus is a wandering wonder-worker who
is not honored in his home town.
- Jesus is accused of licentious behavior, as were the followers of
- Jesus is not at first recognized as a divinity by his disciples, but
then is transfigured before them in his glory; the same is true of
- Jesus is surrounded by 12 disciples; so is Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while crowds wave
branches, as does Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus is a just man unjustly accused of heresy and bringing a new
religion, as is Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus attacks hypocrites, stands up to tyranny and willingly goes to his
death predicting he will rise again in three days, as do Pagan sages.
- Jesus is betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, a motif found in the story of
- Jesus is equated with bread and wine, as is Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus' disciples symbolically eat bread and drink wine to commune with
him, as do the followers of Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus is hung on a tree or crucified, as is Osiris-Dionysus.
- Jesus dies as a sacrifice to redeem the sins of the world; so does
- Jesus' corpse is wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh, as is the
corpse of Osiris-Dionysus.
- After his death Jesus descends to hell, then on the third day resurrects
before his disciples and ascends into heaven, where he is enthroned by God
and waits to reappear at the end of time as a divine judge, as does
- Jesus was said to have died and resurrected on exactly the same dates
that the death and resurrection of Osiris-Dionysus were celebrated.
- Jesus' empty tomb is visited by three women followers; Osiris-Dionysus
also has three women followers who visit an empty cave.
- Through sharing in his passion Jesus offers his disciples the chance to
be born again, as does Osiris-Dionysus.
Discounting the 'diabolical mimicry' argument, as
all sane people must, how are we to explain these extraordinary
similarities between Pagan myth and the story of Jesus?
Darrell J. Doughty
Professor of New Testament
Drew University, Madison, NJ, 07940