>>I recommend you consult a classic work on the subject by Samuel Angus, "Christianity and the Mystery Religions". I used it for my graduate thesis in college and found it very useful. Most of what I have read since is just repeating the information.
I read it cover to cover once, and have started to re-read it. As I recall, I read it *before* reading anything about the mythic-only Christ.
Even the books I've read cover to cover, highlighting every page, when I come back to them in a year, it feels as though I haven't read them and would profit by reading them again.
The Mystery-Religions: A Study in the Religious Background of Early Christianity -- Samuel Angus
Dover. 3 rvws. (not available at B&N, surprisingly): (Feb 1975)
Carol Pub Group (Oct 1989):
B&N has a picture of the Carol Group cover: (Nov 1990)
Nice concise, polished site -- Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth
Everyone should know about these books - click each link in the navbar, 7 book categories.
What I've read that's listed there:
Christ Conspiracy - read cover to cover.
Backgrounds of Early Christianity - read cover to cover.
The Jesus Mysteries - read cover to cover twice.
Ancient Mysteries Source Book - think I have it, haven't read.
The Mystery-Religions - read it cover to cover.
Eleusis - Archetypal... have it, read a little (paired in my mind with Road to Eleusis)
The Roman Cult of Mithras - have it, read some, seems good
Origins of Mithraic Mysteries - read 2/3, great job: transcending cosmic determinism
The Golden Ass - have it, read some
Books that I would expect to see there that aren't:
Myth & Mystery
Hellenistic Mystery Religions: Their Basic Ideas and Significance
Hellenistic Religions - Luther Martin (great short book, attitudes about Fate)
As I write this list, I become profoundly confused about its scope and purpose. We must no longer think in terms of separate religions of early Christianity, Hellenistic mysteries, Gnosticism, and Judaism. Today I drew a diagram: the ground, with mushrooms or rounded trees coming out, with dense webs of influence among the trees. The religions of antiquity grew out of the same ground *and* heavily influenced each other.
Christianity was derived directly from the ground *and* was "based on" or influenced by, Persian religion, Egyptian religion, Greek and Roman religion -- they all grew out of the ground together, influencing each other, like acid-rock lyric double-entendre allusion encoding techniques being discovered by multiple Rock bands, who both independently rediscover the themes *and* learn from previous artists *and* learn from their contempories, who also are so based and influenced. This would agree with:
The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Psychology, and Philosophy
Robert K. C. Forman (Editor), Dec 1997, rank 463K
except I would emphasize the "in-ate" capacity: we have the capacity to fully participate in revelatory religious myth when we eat and drink the god.
It's interesting that Ken Wilber's two weakest areas are mystery-religion and sacred food. It's interesting that mystery-religions and sacred food go hand in hand. It makes sense that Wilber would be dull-witted in both of these domains, not just one.
I still read much more Christian history and theology than Greek religion, myth, and Judaism, but now I have an attitude that it's impossible to grasp esoteric Christianity and its origins without just as well understanding global mysticism and its history, transcending all religions.
There is no need to buy books anymore. You could learn at maximum rate by reading online at Amazon and B&N.
Here are my answers to all of Neville's many questions, including a conceptual vocabulary suited to the subject.
Judaism and the Christian religion contain their own equivalents of the Hellenistic mystery cults. The early Christian religion and several Jewish religious traditions were similar to the Hellenistic mystery cults.
The Greco-Roman mysteries, Judaism, and Christianity were entered into by individual choice. Jewish, Christian, and Hellenistic initiates underwent the same type of purifications, fasts, baptism, lustrations, and ceremonial rites. Eventually, by stages, the one who experiences these standard practices becomes incorporated into the esoteric religious community that transcends all brands of religion, sect, and cult across time and place.
The church or community or brotherhood of which one is a member is that set of people who have experienced the classic death and rebirth, including the experience of no-separate-self, or cosmic transcendent unity which even transcends time, uniting all beings but particularly uniting all *realized* beings into one collective realized group, known equivalently as:
o The saved
o The elect
o The true sons of Abraham
o The true Israel.
Israel, the kingdom of Heaven, and Olympus are esoterically the same thing: the place in which the psyche dwells after sacrificing the mind's lower, animal-child way of thinking.
Once admitted into the church, Christian initiates entered a brotherhood and sisterhood in which one is a mythic godman rather than a Jew or Greek, slave or free person, male or female. One becomes the hidden source which generates all forms and beings, timelessly at all moments and places. A godman is equivalent to true son of Abraham, the righteous, the obedient, and the faithful.
The Jewish and Christian communities consumed a holy meal of holy food and holy drink. Consuming the holy meal made one initiated. The Jewish Seder is a sacred meal reenacting the Exodus from Egypt; the Christian Eucharist is exactly functionally equivalent: a sacramental meal commemorating the death of Christ.
The sacred bread and sacred wine were the actual body and blood of the slain and reborn godman. One participated experientially in the godman's myth-cycle by eating and drinking this literal food and drink, after which one experienced that which the godman or religious-mythic leader went through. The mythic leader's story became one's own story describing what one experienced firsthand.
In some Jewish and Christian communities, mystic experiencing was the central feature of religious life. Jewish mystics practiced a visionary experience of the divine throne chariot. Christian initiates experienced undergoing the story of Christ firsthand, and were so added to and incorporated into the collective mythic Christ.
Christians obtained and experienced their salvation through an encounter with, and an experience of being, the dying and rising godman, who rescued the higher part of the psyche although the lower part of the psyche was essentially sacrificed on cross, like a defeated claimant to the sovereign throne. Christians lived "in Christ".
Christian initiates are born again: they are born from above; that is, lifted up from the depths of a totally helpless, defeated kind of death state by the hidden Source that gives rise to all thoughts and actions.
One religious tradition may appropriate themes from another. The early Christian religion appropriated themes from the Hellenistic mystery cults, and vice versa. Judaism, Christianity, and the Hellenistic mystery cults were similar because they were equally parts of the religious aspect of the Hellenistic world: different socio-political brands of the same religious technology or product.
The Jewish God is equivalent to Dionysus. The Theraputae used sacred meals and mystery language. Secret Mark is styled like a Hellenistic mystery cult. Clement of Alexandria attacks Hellenistic mystery cults yet presents the Christian religion as the *only* true Hellenistic mystery cult.
The claimed difference between religions is really merely a difference of socio-political allegiance, an exagerrated difference on the exoteric level that falsely denies an exact identity on the esoteric level. Religiously, Christianity is exactly the same as Mithraism. Socio-politically, the two are mortal enemies and warring opposites.
The mysteries were the essence of the religious part of the earliest Christian religion. The socio-political part of the early Christian religion didn't have a great need for the mysteries, except to prop up the socio-political authority of the movement. Paul is the fictional mouthpiece of the main creators of early, esoteric Christianity.
The Nazarenes, like many groups, claimed the Paul figure as a leader, and formed their own brand of the universal experiential religion of mythic experience of self-sacrifice. The Christian religion has always had two somewhat opposing strands: the esoteric genuine Hellenistic mystery-religion tradition, and the exoteric Literalist and socio-political tradition. Exoteric Christians paint a 1-sided, exoteric history of Christianity, portraying the esoteric tradition as untraditional.
A Hellenistic mystery cult provides a kind of membership, and experience of being a member of a kind of unity, that transcends brands of cult and brands of religion.
This experience happens multiple times, such as the traditional three times. One joins in esoteric union with the entire esoteric community multiple times -- classically, three times (it takes three tries to cast out one's demon). The ritual, whether Jewish styled, Christian styled, or Hellenistic mystery-cult styled, expresses the religious myth which conveys and articulates what each initiate experiences:
o Sacrifice of one's altar-bound child, exodus between walls of water, seder meal.
o Baptism in a river, last supper, arrest, trial, scourging, fastening to the cross, death, resurrection, appearance in the flesh, and ascension.
o Being torn to pieces, bound to a rock or tree, battling a water monster, going mad, dismembering and eating one's child, giving birth to one's divine child, ascending to Olympus.
The theme of secrecy is mainly about the hiddenness of the true determiner of our thoughts and actions, which proceed from a hidden source. In initiation one incontrovertibly and explicitly perceives the fact of emanation of one's thoughts and movements of will from a hidden source, but cannot perceive through to the source itself.
When one sees this emanation (though one cannot see the source itself), one dies as a metaphysically free sovereign agent; this is crucifixion, sacrifice of the lower self that was set up against the Source (albeit ultimately *by* the Source), and is the mortal death that leads to being reborn as a godman, as the godman.
The essential religious element of Hellenistic mystery cults was access to afterlife through personal engagement with the god, where the primary meaning of afterlife is the spiritual death and rebirth in this life. Physical death is a mere metaphor for the main thing, which is the death and rebirth experience in religious experiencing.
Such psyche-transforming rebirth in life is called "spirituality" or "mysticism" but those terms have come to obscure more than reveal the main point, which is the death and rebirth experience. "Death and rebirth" is ultimately merely a metaphor, but it is a metaphor so apt and effectively descriptive, it is practically a literal description of the experience in question.
In esoteric Judaism, the whole people (all initiates) are saved by the whole people (all realized initiates) observing God's law, which is the law which the individual Abraham obeyed: sacrifice your childself. The true Israel is the whole people which comprises all individuals who observe God's law of childself sacrifice.
The Christian religion is also about individuals being added to the saved collective; individuals are chosen by the godman to be drawn into and incorporated into his transpersonal, mystical collective body: these individuals were chosen by the godman and brought to successfully participate in his mysteries.
The Christian religion is a Hellenistic mystery cult, or rather, was based on the same sacred meal techniques and experiences and mythic techniques as both the Hellenistic mysteries and the Jewish esoteric sects.
The pagan Hellenistic mystery cults were only partly a generative influence for the Christian religion.
The Christian religion wasn't a totally new invention any more than any mystery cult was a new religion. Esoteric Hellenistic, Christian, and Jewish mystery cults were all the same religion, as far as mythic technique and initiation experience is concerned. The Christian religion was invented by people throughout the Hellenstic world by integrating aspects of the Hellenistic mystery cults and Jewish esoteric, experiential religion-myth. Christianity germinated from Hellenistic mystery cults insofar as it was a synthesis of Hellenistic mystery cults as well as Jewish esotericism.
The Christian religion germinated from mystery cults including the emperor cult and Mithraism, through inversion and co-opting the rites, language, meals of sacred food and sacred drink, and religious mythology.
Christianity germinated from the Hellenistic mystery cults via various typical, thoroughly Hellenized Jews and highly Judaism-aware Hellenists. Esoteric Judaism is essentially the same as the early Christian mystery-religion and the Hellenistic mystery-cults. All of them used religious mythology together with sacred meals, to effect a transformation of the mind's model of self, time, and control.
According to Luther Martin's book Hellenistic Religions, the Hellenistic mystery-cults were different versions of a single religion that involved experiencing and in some sense transcending cosmic determinism -- so too were esoteric Judaism and the early Christian religion a mind-transforming encounter and transcendence of cosmic determinism, experienced as the sacrifice of one's childself: represented by Abraham's son Isaac, God's son Jesus, or the child Dionysus.
In all cases one obtains salvation and righteousness through sacrificing one's child, where one effectively adopts Isaac, Jesus, or the infant Dionysus as one's child who willingly offers himself as a sacrifice.
Some Judaic sects accepted the seed of Hellenistic mystery cults, but this seed does not come from the mystery cults. Rather, the mystery cults, and esoteric initiatory Judaism, and the Christian mystery religion that synthesizes the two, all come from the sacred meal and the intense cognitive transformation that follows it, assisted by the religious-myth stories that express and convey what is experienced: the sacrifice of one's animal-child way of thinking about self, time, and control.
Components of Christianity were borrowed partly from Judaic sects which had partly borrowed elements from the Hellenistic mystery cults.
o The early Christian religions borrowed partly from the Jewish esoteric sects.
o The early Christian religions borrowed partly from the Hellenistic mystery cults.
o The Jewish esoteric sects borrowed partly from the early Christian religions.
o The Jewish esoteric sects borrowed partly from the Hellenistic mystery cults.
o The Hellenistic mystery cults borrowed partly from the early Christian religions.
o The Hellenistic mystery cults borrowed partly from the Jewish esoteric sects.
Around and around they went. What then was the source? The sacred meal, followed by the cognitive transformation, followed by the more or less willing sacrifice of one's child mode of the psyche.
The Jewish scriptures are filled with religious-mythic allegories for primary religious experience which metaphorically depict and convey initiation experience, expressed largely through political-history-styled metaphors and allegories. Such primary religious experience and involvement in the allegorism took place outside of sects as well as within them; the esoteric tradition within a particular religion transcends any list of specific sects.
The tradition of esoteric experiential interpretation stands on its own and is a source from which sects are created. The sects come from the esoteric tradition, and the esoteric tradition is expressed often but not always through the sects.
Skill with religious-mythic interpretation of primary religious experience transcends the whole notion of one religion germinating from another religion. It's more a matter of the participant in mythic-allegorical meaning achieving an understanding of how *all* religious myth works.
Once the individual initiate understands how Jewish or Christian or Hellenistic religion-myth works, all religion-myth is understood; the individual initiate becomes, in this sense, omniscient, knowing all things. All things will be revealed to such a full member of any of these religions.
The Christian religion germinated partly from a Judaism which developed its own mystery cults largely independently of the Hellenistic mystery cults. This is like asking whether Unix, Mac, and Windows operating systems germinated from one of the others: the main source is computer science itself. The main source of the dimensions of Judaism, Christianity, and Hellenism which are so similar is not some other religion, but religion-myth and the sacred meals.
These three religions were merely different styles of the same thing: experiential religion expressed via myth.
In comparing Jesus (as a allegorical mystery-religion figure) to Mithras, Dionysus, Prometheus, and Attis, the problem arises of *which* generation of Jesus story to examine:
1a. The Jesus story of Paul's early epistles (a non-historical dying- and-rising mythic Christ, concepts that have barely gelled into the form of a sequential mythic story)
1b. The Jesus story of the gospel of John (a quasi-historical mythic Christ - a distinct sequential story forms, even with some historical placement, but still is essentially mythic-form)
2a. The Jesus story of the synoptic gospels (a historical quasi- supernatural Jesus -- the story starts to become more of a Homeric epic story rather than mystery-myth short-myth form)
2b. The Jesus story of later Orthodox Christianity (a historical supernatural Jesus -- story becomes fully detailed and reified as history rather than a mythic story or epic story)
(I list John before the synoptics, per the book The Unfinished Gospel.)
The Jesus story develops through these four phases. Which phase shall we compare to the other mystery-religion dying-and-rising gods?
It is one thing to allegorically decode the original Jesus story, which was put forth as non-historical, mythic allegory; it is something else to allegorically decode the later Jesus story, which was put forth as non-mythic, historical report.
This is the greatest, pause-inducing problem I've run into lately when trying to grasp "the" meaning of "the" Jesus story -- there are actually some four different phases of "the" Jesus story, moving from the purely mythic, which is the same as the other mystery-religion figures, to eventually a purely historical, truly supernatural Jesus perhaps by 500 CE.
For the same reason it is interesting to compare Jesus to the other mystery-gods, we can by that same token compare Paul's earliest conception of the Jesus or Christ figure to the orthodox final conception of Jesus Christ, and examine the different psychological and allegorical aspects of these two extreme end-points in the developing Jesus-story.
It is easiest to compare the Phase 1a Jesus story or the Phase 2b Jesus story to the mystery religions. The Phase 1 Jesus story simply functions the same as the other mystery-gods. So for phase 1, we can just discuss "the mystery gods including Jesus" and make valid generalization, such as that these gods are allegorical portrayals of the first-hand experience offered by the sacramental ritual.
During the mystery-state of cognition, after taking the sacrament of apolytrosis (higher redemption), it is common to experience a general pattern of the key points of Jesus' passion:
o Riding a (willful) donkey
o Betrayal (by will and time)
o Undergoing judgement as a false sovereign
o Suffering humiliation
o Undergoing crucifixion
o Being speared to death in the will (a swooning mythic type of death)
o A rescuing, entombment, resuscitation, and resurrection.
But you won't experience yourself doing the historical particulars of the later Jesus.
The above is the cogent exegesis of the Phase 1 version of the Jesus story. Phase 2 of the Jesus story requires different explanatory elements, although in all phases we explain in terms of the same "language" of explanation -- the mythic-experiencing encoding approach.
In Phase 2 of the Jesus story, different mythic terms are used: death- penalty for rebellion against God, Christ dying in our place, our willingness to die to pay the price of reconciliation with God's realm, cleansing and cancelling of our sins. This scheme remains in mythic-experiencing territory, but now it spun a certain way by the orthodox church, with a different set of emphases.
Nevertheless, we can successfully use the same encoder/decoder scheme: it's a simple matter of mapping the key components of this Phase 2 story to the standard components of the ego-death theory.
It becomes a routine concept/ allegory/ experience mapping problem, a matter of mapping a set of concepts and allegories to the concepts and experiences which are more clearly systematized and enumerated in the ego-death theory.
It is impossible to solve any one problem, to explain any one allegorical system, without entering the mythic state of cognition. But with the vivid experience of the mythic state of cognition, not just one but all these allegorical systems are suddenly solved together, by mapping each of them into the ego-death theoretical framework.
I need to check whether any elements such as humiliation, judgement, or spear appear in Paul's early epistles -- that is, in the Phase 1, mythic/mystery Christ story.
A. The Phase 1, mythic/mystery Christ story [crucifixion, dying, and rising to new life...]
B. The Phase 2, historical/supernatural Jesus story [all are subject to death penalty, all have trespassed, casting out a daemon, substitute death in your place, cancellation of sin, purchase of freedom...]
C. The Dionysus story [surprised while playing with pine cone & puppet toys, torn or dis-integrated into pieces, uncontrolled mania...]
Attis story [absolute act of will to bring organ of rebellious uprising under full control, death of young companion, resulting insanity, embedded in tree...]
D. The Mithras story [born from a rock, exiting the cave, precession of equinoxes, conquering astrological determinism, washed in the blood of the substitute-sacrificed bull...]
= = = = = = = = = =
EDT. The ego-death theory [idea and perception of fixed future, idea and perception of metaphysical unfreedom, idea and perception of illusory steersman, death of the egoic world-model, cancellation of moral culpability along with metaphysical freedom...]
With EDT providing a systematic framework, it now becomes routine to map the key elements of mythic-/mystery-allegories A, B, C, and D into a common point of reference and recognize what aspects they significantly have in common.
Of these various mythic-/mystery-allegories, B is distinctively historical. Our sense of metaphysical freedom is largely propped up by our sense of historical positioning. We might be able to thank the Jews for our strong sense of moving through time as continuant agents, per Cahill's book The Gifts of the Jews : How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.
If the Jews really are associated with linear, historical thinking, and if the Greeks are associated with cyclical-time or block-universe thinking, then we can call the Phase 1 Jesus story the "Greek" version of the story, and call Phase 2 the "Jewish" version of the story.
To rediscover Paul's early conception of Jesus means changing from thinking in terms of the "Jewish" version of the Jesus story to the earlier, "Greek" version of the Jesus story.
According to Elaine Pagels in the book The Gnostic Paul, the Valentinians crafted a two-layer Jesus story comprising the lower, "Jewish" version of the story and the higher, "Gentile" or "Greek" version of the story.
This is what is so distinctive about the Jesus story, or story-pair, or two-layer story, compared with the other mystery-god figures. The other mystery-gods had *only* the "higher", mythic level of the story. They don't fully descend into linear time and history.
The Jesus story originally began with that mythic-level version, but added something innovative: a lower level as well, in which Jesus "landed" in linear time at a particular point and promised to land in the future too.
The Jews read their scriptures, such as the story of Abraham, as history -- while the Greeks read their own mythic stories as timeless mythic stories, not as historical events located in linear time.
I want to add: Where there is linear time, there is the egoic notion of metaphysical free will. The concept of linear time and egoic metaphysical freedom seem to have arisen together, perhaps in Jewish thinking. The Greeks may have become weary of metaphysical unfreedom, and even grown weary of confronting the block universe via entheogenic loose cognition.
People wanted a greater amount of practical freedom, and the experience of metaphysical unfreedom, even when positively interpreted as "redemption" and exiting the deterministic jail cell, was still too humiliating and injurious to the project of re-forming the mind into the shape of a free sovereign agent.
So they sacrificed entheogens (which present an experiential vision of metaphysical unfreedom) and allowed them to be driven underground - - to forget the experience of metaphysical unfreedom and strive for a greater amount of practical freedom.
They achieved their goal, technically -- people became sinners, guilt- agents, responsible free agents -- at least until Reformed theology came along. Even after Reformed theology, entheogens remained suppressed, as "witchcraft", so the naive sense of moral free sovereign agency persisted. Entheogens kill the naive sense of moral free sovereign agency.
Within the context of Greco-Roman culture (religion, philosophy, myth, initiation, cult, literature), how does the crucified Jesus figure work? Are there "main" threads of meaning? The challenge is that so many threads were woven into the figure from so many sources -- an uncanny number of threads, as time passed. What were the main meanings of the earliest versions of the Jesus figure, perhaps 120-170 CE? I consider that to be the period of most greatest development of the Jesus figure. When he was first available as a figure with a lifestory, why did that figure appeal to people?
Identify the appeal and meaning of the Jesus figure in 3 periods:
1. Abstract Pauline died-and-risen figure with no lifestory.
2. Earliest, barebones lifestory (perhaps Marcion's "Gospel of the Lord").
3. Elaborated lifestory with heavy Old Testament connections.
Phase 1: To members of the diverse Greco-Roman culture, what was the appeal and meaning of the Jesus figure when conceived of as an abstract Pauline died-and-risen figure with no lifestory? (Perhaps the proto-Jesus figure of 100 BCE to 140 CE.) Certain kinds of people voluntarily joined this type of group or movement -- why? ("Stupid gullible belief in literal incarnation" isn't a possible explanation, since the notion of literal incarnation didn't happen until late in this period.) In this phase, I suppose there are various non-integrated versions of the Jesus figure: the Pauline abstract dying/rising cross-based version, and the wisdom teacher version.
Phase 2: To members of the diverse Greco-Roman culture, what was the appeal and meaning of the Jesus figure when conceived of with an earliest, barebones lifestory (perhaps Marcion's "Gospel of the Lord")? (Perhaps 140 to 170 CE.) Certain kinds of people voluntarily joined this type of group or movement -- why? (Surely not because of gullible literalism -- that hadn't really gotten started yet.
Most likely, in this phase, the Jesus figure was still considered to be essentially like the many other legendary, mythic, or allegorical figures -- he's still essentially viewed as a mystical personification and ethics teacher.) This is the first phase in which a single Jesus figure *integrates* and brings together elements including ethics/wisdom teacher, lifestory, and cross-based dying-rising. These elements are not brought together in a way that is optimized for an authoritarian hierarchy.
Phase 3a: To members of the diverse Greco-Roman culture, what was the appeal and meaning of the Jesus figure when conceived of as having an elaborated lifestory with heavy Old Testament connections? (Perhaps 170 CE to 313 CE and later.) Certain kinds of people voluntarily joined this type of group or movement -- why? (Stupid gullible belief in Jesus' literal existence and miraculous resurrection is probably not the best explanation.) In this phase is heavy, evenly balanced competition between free-form Jesus technicians and the hierarchy-builders who ultimately seek larger-scale uniformity.
Phase 3b: 313 (Constantine/Eusebius) to 393(?) when Christianity becomes the mandatory state religion. To members of the diverse Greco-Roman culture, what was the appeal and meaning of the Jesus figure when conceived of as having a fixed and orthodox lifestory with heavy Old Testament connections? Certain kinds of people voluntarily joined this type of group or movement -- why? (Stupid gullible belief in Jesus' literal existence and miraculous resurrection is probably not the best explanation.)
The hierarchy-building *bishops* talked about voluntary martyrdom and supernaturalist literalism, but did the people who voluntarily joined join for those reasons? Some pagans criticized the stupidity and gullibility of Christians, but were those the real reasons for joining, and were those actually the beliefs of those who joined?
"Gullibility" is probably a bluff, a smokescreen created by the power-mongering bishops, to cover the actual socio-political and ethical and mystical motives and dynamic conflicts throughout the Christian groups and between the Christian groups and the rest of the culture. Given that there was a competitive groups-takeover war, especially instigated by power-hungry bishops, it's a state of war and thus a state of propaganda in which reported circumstances and the supposed nature of group disagreements are not to be believed.
I simply want to comprehend what the Jesus figure really meant to the real people when he became available -- but the problem is, the Jesus figure developed over a long period, and the Greco-Roman context and competitive philosophical systems, religious systems, and ideas developed over this period as well.
Understanding the "creation of the Jesus figure in cultural context" sounds simple and static, but it's actually a moving target set within a broader cultural moving target. I'm not used to such dynamic historical thinking and puzzle-solving. This degree of dynamic change, intertwined with the challenge of penetrating the mystical and sociopolitical meaning of mystery-religions is all the more challenging.
It's like a puzzle within a puzzle, both changing over time. And the whole interpretive paradigm is uncertain and variable. A study of ancient Greek religion of Dionysus and other myth-religion around 500 BCE can only contribute a limited explanation of what the Jesus figure meant to the Greco-Romans around 120-180 CE, when the recognizable Jesus figure was born and voluntarily embraced.
Mithras seems not to be a mediator: he seems not to himself be a sacrifice. How many Greco-Roman godmen are specifically *sacrificial* godmen? Consider Prometheus as well. How many are sacrificially given from the divine to itself? Prometheus seems to be set up in opposition to Zeus, whereas Jesus is set up as aligned with God, proceeding from God.
As a mediator, the Jesus figure seems more perfect and symmetrically balanced. Prometheus is like a man set up against the divine. The *idea* of a perfect mediator who is all in one sacrament, sacrifice, priestly sacrificer, monotheistic god, and generalized man, and representative of the initiate, is highly developed in the Jesus figure.
The idea of "godman" may be too narrow to grasp the dynamic of mystery-religion-type ideas. Something is amiss if Prometheus and Mithras are omitted because they fail a stringent "godman" qualification test. The Jewish or Neoplatonic mediator-logos idea may also need to be considered.
The Cults of the Roman Empire
Reviewer -- "...offers psychological explanations for the victory of Christianity over the cults ... but I think he glossed over the socio-political explanation: episcopal Christianity alone provided the strongest social cohesiveness enforced by ecclesiastical sanctions. It was this strength that moved Constantine to attempt to co-opt the episcopal church rather than throw the future of his empire in with Mithras or Isis."
Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100-400)
This is supposedly an objective book (as opposed to Peter Brown's committed-Christian platform), yet the author apparently includes "miracles", the day of Pentecost (read as a literal event), and mass conversions in his explanation for the appeal of Christianity. Sounds as untrustworthy as any book operating within the received paradigm; he's not really outside the dominant paradigm.
>I hope Rev. H. founds an entheogenic kabbalah temple. I also hope that Mr. Hoffman establishes his entheogenic Protestant church.
I'll probably remain strictly a theorist. I don't have time or patience for rituals. I should envision an entheogenic Gnostic initiation-oriented church, but my first audience is the thinking individual explorer online. Lately, I wonder "What does the church of the placebo sacrament mean to these people? What do they get out of it?" Basically, social interaction and an orientation in life.
Was not the original Christian church a mystery religion, using the same active sacraments as the other mystery religions of the era? Lately I feel alienated from the Protestant church, which moved only part of the way from orthodoxy to a genuine sacramental mystery-religion. A more pertinant debate is the question of forming a Gnostic Christian or Christian Gnostic church.
There are some entheogenic Christian churches today, though I expect they lack a systematic theory of the Christ experience. That would be too much to ask in today's cultural climate, given the current terrrible conditions (even persecutions) for entheogenic religions.
Protestantism maintains a conventional heaven and hell even though Reformed theology denies that these have anything to do with moral punishment and reward. I surmise that the most extreme Reformed theologians finally abandon heaven and hell as pointless, though they might not admit it. Even so, their theological system is not redeemed, because they lack the flesh and blood of Christ - the entheogenic sacrament.
It would be trivial to offer people more than today's churches do, and we can assume that people would flock to a real church now, just as they did in the original Christian church as everyone clamored for the higher initiation.
My goal was not to repair Christian practice, but to make sense of it because it is the myth that reigns over the world of Western culture and it was the myth that was implanted into me before my intellectual life was initiated. From the first, the Jesus myth was a part of my experiences. I spent as much time in the synagogue, but the synagogue seemed even more bereft of any genuine resonance with the experiences of the mystic state of cognition.
Neither did my family's new age involvement give me anything. I got everything from Christianity (including the cancelled sacrifice of Abraham) and Zen. Jesus is the reigning religious myth of the culture that produced me, so any theory of entheogenic origin of religions that is relevant to that culture must have a solid, detailed explanation of the Jesus myth. I did not study the myth in order to repair Christianity, but to explain what the essential transcendent meaning behind Christianity is -- to locate the higher meaning of Christianity.
Now that I can understand and communicate this meaning, it would be possible to repair Christianity, but that has not been my goal. Ultimately, my goal is to understand and make sense out of our nature as controllers, and explain how the dominant myth reflects this nature. Why do I want to explain the dominant myth? To increase my understanding and our understanding of our nature as controllers.
My preferred style of myth is distinctively contemporary, along the lines of the power-cancelling android in The Body Electric, or a postmodernist incongruous alien time-jumping vision that builds an allegorical savior meta-story out of entire categories rather than a single limited storyline.
We can avoid all mystic and religious terms and speak purely in terms of self-control cybernetics and principles that aliens also are sure to discover, and thus escape the accustomed ruts of thinking and finally get to the real heart of the matter, of what religious experiencing is really about. Yet today's dominant cultural myth is still the orthodox Jesus story, and a theory of religious experiencing that does not conquer and transform the orthodox Jesus story from within can't achieve anything.
I am a chronically individualist thinker and can hardly picture a social organization based on Gnostic entheogenic Christianity. The head needs the body: the higher Gnostic Christians are into individual experience, unlike the masses of uninitiated literalists, the lower Christians, who provide the socially stable organization.
It is easy to see in retrospect that the body, in envy and fear, would cut of the head, leaving us with the social body of "Jesus", minus the religious experience of "Christ" (a social/emotional substitute is only a frustrating substitute).
There are too many dangers, we now know, in such a two-layer religion. The head is always at risk of being rejected by the body. Because of its so-tangible literalist layer, the two-layer Jesus story may have a clearer impact on the mind than the mythic-only savior stories. But we don't dare tell the historical-style Jesus story in a misleadingly literalist way again. This time, the head must kill the body -- that is, we cannot humor the naive belief in literalist historical reading of the Jesus story any longer, like the Valentinian Gnostics did.
Either literalism or the mythic allegorical reading is bound to win. It's a winner-takes all situation. Paul aimed for a two-layer religion, but the lower layer won completely, forcing the higher layer underground. This time, we must have the higher, allegorical layer win, with no more inner-circle secrecy. The greatest question remains: why were the Christian mysteries secretive? What was the nature of their secrecy? Was the customary "death penalty" threat applied to revealing the *Christian* mysteries as well as the other mysteries? Is that why Paul "met with" the Areopagus council?
In Valentinian Gnostic Christianity, why didn't the higher Christians, the "Gentiles", simply reveal everything openly to the lower Christians, the "Jews"? Wouldn't that have prevented the colossal disaster, where the lower, literalist layer of Christianity took over the whole structure and shut out the higher, mystic, entheogenic layer? That is the great question that is glaringly raised yet left untreated in Pagels' book The Gnostic Paul.
In the book The Christian Mystery: From Pagan Myth to Christian Mysticism (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/187900707X, April 1996), Louis Bouyer argues that the Greek "mystery"-religions are misnamed and except for the mysteries of Demeter, they were described as "initiations" rather than mystery-revelations.
I propose that the Hellenistic world considered the Christian mystery more sophisticated and more of a pure mystery than the too obviously mythic Greek mystery religions which simply taught mythic stories as stories, not to be taken for reality, and then revealed the real meaning that had obviously been missing.
In those days, Christianity would only have been a degree more mysterious -- it was obvious to those familiar with the two-level mystery system of story-then-revelation that the initial Jesus story, with all its whimsical miracles, was merely the first phase of two -- after all, the New Testament scriptures plainly assert, throughout, that the stories contain a meaning that is hidden in a mystery that is only visible to those with eyes to see it and an inspired mind that is able to understand it.
But these scriptures spoke often, from the start, of disputes about the meaning of the mystery. The idea of *dispute* about the mystery- meaning was designed into the system from the start, giving full warrant to question the literalist interpretation entirely, doubting not just the resurrection, not just the miracles, not just the existence of Jesus, not just the existence of Paul, but even the existence of the early disputes themselves.
We have stories about a Paul going around and disputing, but the story of the disputes may have preceded and predicted the actual disputes. Only later did the fictional disputes between the idiots who took the stories for real and those who assumed them to be standard mythic allegories become actual disputes.
The idea of deliberately creating a mystery that was a frank lie mixed with blatant impossibilities and myths, that would then reveal the highest revelation about moral agency, was brilliant. And it was brilliant to weave in the notion that people would be so blind as to take the blatant fictions and impossibilities for real and be oblivious to the very existence of a mythic allegorical layer.
The fictional prediction of such a confusion actually created a real confusion in reality, after some time. It turned out that people were indeed eager to believe blatant impossibilities and escape into magic wishful thinking. People actually *liked* the pseudo-histories and edifying supernatural mythic stories so much that they took them for real, probably as some Hellenistic Jews took the Jewish pseudo- histories as reality.
Perhaps the Paul-like creators of the Jesus pseudo-history knew full well that this extreme mystery-system was bound to lead to massive popular confusions and blindness to the sometimes unpleasant higher metaphysical truth about determinism and moral agency that was encoded in the supernaturalist pseudo-history.
This 2-level system of extreme mystery-confusion may have come about and almost written itself due to the confluence of values, traditions, myths, and mysteries. To be a determinist, mature, Stoic adult required accepting unpleasant ideas such as our enslavement to Fate and Destiny -- people weren't up to that Stoic resoluteness and preferred to escape to or remain in the land of childish wishful thinking.
The New Testament was written to allow people the choice of remaining in supernaturalist fantasy and taking pseudo-history as reality, or to abandon those things of childhood and enter the profoundly limited deterministic adult kingdom of God/Fate.
The Beginnings of Christianity: Essene Mystery, Gnostic Revelation and the Christian Vision