Peter now stands upon the very spot.
Another popular religion which influenced the thought of early Christians was the worship of Adonis. As is commonly known Antioch was one of the earliest seats of Christianity.
It was in this city that there was celebrated each year the death and resurrection of the god Adonis. When we come to Christian thought the influence seems even greater, for even the place at Bethleham selected by the early Christians as the scene of the birth of Jesus was none other than an early shrine of this pagan god--a fact that led many to confuse Adonis with Jesus Christ. It was believed that this god suffered a cruel death, after which he descended into hell, rose again, and then ascended into Heaven. The festival ended with the celebration of his ascention in the sight of his worshippers.
This coincidence had led many critics to suppose that the story of the burial and resurrection of Jesus is simply a myth borrowed from this pagan religion. However when we come to the idea of Jesus' decent into hell it seems that we have a direct borrow from the Adonis religion, and in fact from other religions also. In fact the idea did not appear in the church as a tenet of Christianity until late in the Fourth Century.
The Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris exerted considerable influence upon early Christianity. These two great Egyptian deities, whose worship passed into Europe, were revered not only in Rome but in many other centers where Christian communities were growing up. Osiris and Isis, so the legend runs, were at one and the same time, brother and sister, husband and wife; but Osiris was murdered, his coffined body being thrown into the Nile, and shortly afterwards the widowed and exiled Isis gave birth to a son, Horus.
Meanwhile the coffin was washed up on the Syrian coast, and became miraculously lodged in the trunk of a tree. This tree afterwards chanced to be cut down and made into a pillar in the palace at Byblos, and there Isis at length found it. After recovering Osiris' dismembered body, Isis restored him to life and installed him as King in the nether world; meanwhile Horus, having grown to manhood, reigned on earth, later becoming the third person of this great Egyptian trinity.
In the records of both Herodotus and Plutarch we find that there was a festival held each year in Egypt celebrating the resurrection of Osiris. While Herodotus fails to give a date for this festival, Plutarch says that it lasted four days, giving the date as the seventeenth day of the Egyptian month Hathor, which, according to the Alexandrian claendar used by him, corresponded to November 13th.
It is interesting to note that the Christian feast of all Souls, in honor of the dead, likewise falls at the beginning of November; and in many countries lamps and candles are burned all night on that occassion. There seems little doubt that this custom was identical with the Egyptian festival. The festival of all Saints, which is held one day before that of all Souls is also probably identical with it in origin. However this is not the only point at which the Religion of Osiris and Isis exerted influence on Christianity.
There can hardly be any doubt that the myths of Isis had a direct bearing on the elevation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to the lofty position that she holds in Roman Catholic theology.
As is commonly known Isis had two capacities which her worshippers warmly commended her for. Firstly, she was pictured as the lady of sorrows, weeping for the dead Osiris, and secondly she was commended as the divine mother, nursing her infant son, Horus. In the former capacity she was identified with the great mother-goddess, Demeter, whose mourning for Persephone was the main feature in the Eleusinian mysteries. In the latter capacity Isis was represented in tens of thousands of statuettes and paintings, holding the divine child in her arms.
Now when Christianity triumphed we find that these same paintings and figures became those of the Madonna and child with little or no difference. It is also interesting to note that in the second century a story began to spread stating that Mary had been miraculously carried to Heaven by Jesus and His angels. It is celebrated annually on August 13th. But it was this very date that the festival of Dianna or Artemis was celebrated, with whom Isis was identified.
Here we see how Mary gradually came to take the place of the goddess. In the first century of the Christian era the Eleusinian mystery cult was more favorable known than any of the cults of Greece. The origin of this cult is obscure and uncertain. Some writers traced its origin to Egypt while others upheld Eleusis in Greece as the place of its birth. In order to understand the type of religious experience represented by this important cult, we must turn to the myth of the rape of Demeter's daughter by Pluto.
It is stated with sufficient elaboration in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In this myth, Persephone is depicted playing in the meadows of Mysia in Asia with the daughters of Oceanus and Tithys. While playing she was stolen by Pluto and carried off to the underworld to be his bride. The mother, frenzied with grief, rushed about the earth for nine days in search for her lost daughter, 25 As a result of her wandering, she came to Eleusis where she was seen, although not recognized, by the four daughters of Kekeas sitting near a public well called the Fountain of Maidenhood.
After telling a fictitious tale of her escape from pirates, she won the sympathy of the girls who took her home and at her own request was given a job to nurse their infant brother, Demophon. After making herself known, she commanded the people of Eleusis to build her a temple. In connection with the temple, she established certain ceremonies and rites for her worship. During her short stay at the temple of Eleusis, the whole earth grew barren. Men began to die for the lack of food while the sacrifices to the gods decreased in number because the animals were dying out.
The other gods pleaded with her to relent but she refused to do so until Persephone was restored to her. Pluto, also called Hades therefore, at the request of Zeus released her but not before he had caused her to eat a pomegranate seed which magically required her return after a period of time. Demeter, in her joy at the restoration of her lost daughter, allowed the crops to grow once more and institute in honor of the event the Eleusinian mysteries which gave to mortals the assurance of a happy future life.
The significance of this story is immediately clear. It was a nature myth portraying a vivid and realistic picture of the action of life in the vegetable world in regards to the changing seasons. Every year nature passes through a cycle of apparent death and resurrection. In winter, all plants die, this represents the period of Demeter's grief over her daughter.
Spring, the time when all plants come back to life, indicates the return of plenty when the goddess maintains all life until autumn when her daughter returns to Hades and the earth becomes once more desolated. The myth is also an example of poignant human experience, reflecting the joys, sorrows, and hopes of mankind in the face of death. The mysteries of human life and death are vividly enacted by Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. Hades, the god of death, stole the beloved daughter, Persephone, from Demeter, the life giver, who refused to admit defeat until she secured her daughter's resurrection.
In this legend, human beings, who are always loved and lost, are depicted as never or seldom loosing hope for reunion with their God. These fundamental human experiences and the life of nature are the main substances of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Now when we observe the modern Greek Easter festival it seems certain that it preserves the spirit if not the form of the old Eleusinian worship. In the spring, those who had shared Demeter's grief for the loss of her daugher welcomed the return of Persephone with all the joy that the returning life of vegetation might kindle.
And today similar experiences are represented by Greek Christians. After mourning over the dead Christ, represented most conspicuously by a wax image carried through the streets, there comes an announcement by the priest, on the midnight before Easter Sunday, that Christ is risen. At this moment the light from the candle of the priest is passed on to light the candles of his companions; guns and firecrackers are discharged as they prepare to break the Lenten fast.
So we might say that Eleusinianism was not blotted out by Christianity. On the contrary many of its forms and some of its old content has been perpetuated in Christianity.
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Mithraism is perhaps the greatest example of paganism's last effort to reconcile itself to the great spiritual movement which was gaining such sturdy influence with its purer conception of God. All this goes to show how important Mithraism was in ancient times. It was suppressed by the Christians sometime in the latter part of the fourth century A. Originally Mithra was one of the lesser gods of the ancient Persian pantheon, but at the time of Christ he had come to be co-equal with Ahura Mazda, the Supreme Being.
He emerges from the rocky summits of eastern mountains at dawn, and goes through heaven with a team of four white horses; when the night falls he still illumines the surface of the earth, "ever walking, ever watchful. He hears all and sees all: none can deceive him.
Such designations of our Lord as the Dayspring from on High, The Light, the Sun of Righteousness, and similar expressions seem to come directly from Mithraic influence. Again tradition has it that Mithra was born from a rock, "the god out of the rock. Now it seems that the general belief of the early church that Jesus was born in a cave grows directly out of Mithraic ideas. The words of St.
Paul, "They drank of that spiritual rock. The Hebrew Sabbath having been abolished by Christians, the Church made a sacred day of Sunday, partly because it was the day of resurrection. But when we observe a little further we find that as a solar festival, Sunday was the sacred day of Mithra; it is also interesting to notice that since Mithra was addressed as Lord, Sunday must have been "the Lord's Day" long before Christian use. To make the picture a little more clear, we may list a few of the similarities between these two religions: 1 Both regard Sunday as a holy day.
In fact, the comparison became so evident that many believed the Christian movement itself became a mystery cult. He too had found the road to heaven by his suffering and resurrection. He too had God for his father.
He had left behind the secret whereby men could achieve the goal with him.