Perhaps we need to discuss WHICH Mithras is being referred to and how it/they came to be associated with Christ. (all bolded emphasis are mine)
"The name "Mithras" has deep roots in Western Civilization. It's listed among a catalogue of gods whom the Indo-Iranians worshiped, the
Indo-European group that settled the Iranian plateau east of Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE. "Mithras" appears again over a millennium later as the
appellation of a secondary Zoroastrian deity in Darius' day. Finally, this name is also attached to a god whose cult thrived in the Roman world
beginning around the time of Christ and for centuries after.
"The connection linking all these different Mithrases, seen in places so distant
from each other and across gaps of so many years, is hard to reconstruct. All the same, the name by itself suggests some sort of affinity.
Nor is the evidence for any of these Mithrases bountiful or easy to interpret. The first two are all but impossible to see historically
former existed in very remote times and a place from which few historical records survive, and the second was not the principal deity of the religion
to which he belonged. Though hidden behind the veil of a mystery cult, the last is the best attested
, since this god rose to prominence during
the final days of the Roman Republic, the well-documented first century BCE. As the only "Mithras" whose history we have any real chance of
uncovering, he has been the focus of attention among scholars.
Ancient chronicles tell us that a god with the name of Mithras was imported into Rome around 60 BCE
through contact between the pirates who
lived in the seas around Asia Minor and the soldiers of the Roman general Pompey who'd been sent to exterminate them for disrupting trade in the
region. After that, the cult spread quickly and widely among Roman men, primarily soldiers and merchants—there are very few aristocrats recorded as
devotees of Mithras—and as far as we know, no women of any class were ever admitted to these rites.
Because it was a mystery cult, our understanding of Mithraic religion is limited to archaeological evidence for the most part, though, fortunately for
us, quite a bit has been recovered. Over four hundred Mithraea (singular, Mithraeum), the temples in which the rites of Mithras were celebrated, have
been found, mainly in two places: around Rome and its port city Ostia, and along the northern frontiers of the Roman Empire formed by the Rhine and
Danube Rivers. This geography ties in well with the no-women, no-nobles feature of Mithras worship attested elsewhere, because the city of Rome and
the frontiers of the Empire were places where working-class Roman men lived in sizeable numbers.
Besides that, virtually all Mithraea share certain features. To us today, these are important clues about the rituals once performed there, the
password perhaps that lets us in on the secrets revealed to initiates of the cult. For instance, all these "caves"—"caves" is how Mithras
worshipers referred to their holy sites; the term "Mithraeum" is a modern invention—are long, narrow, underground chambers outfitted with benches,
an altar and enough room to lay out a meal.
From this, it's safe to suppose initiates feasted on a ritual dinner of some sort. This holy supper is depicted in Mithraic art, though the
significance of the banquet is unclear. We know something about the initiation ceremony, however, for instance, that it involved baptism in blood,
probably bull's blood, because bulls play an important role elsewhere in the religion.
Virtually every Mithraeum uncovered so far contains a representation—it can be a painting, a relief or a statue—of Mithras slaying a bull. Called
the tauroctony (in Greek, "bull-slaughter"), this ritual image is remarkably consistent wherever and whenever this religion was practiced. Mithras
is always depicted above the bull, sometimes kneeling on the bull's back, reaching down with a dagger and stabbing it in the flank. The bull's blood
runs down to where a little dog is lapping it up. Behind the bull is a scorpion which is often climbing up its back leg. In many pictures, a snake
Here the mystery offers up tantalizing clues about the religion represented through this art. For one, most of these images are tied to
constellations: Taurus the bull, Scorpio the scorpion, Canis minor the dog, Draco the snake. To drive the point home, several pieces of Mithraic art
depict the sun and moon as well—in one, Mithras is even shown dining with an image of the sun—indeed, everything about these works is
astronomical, except one thing: Mithras, the central figure! Why is a Persian deity from remote antiquity depicted in the center of classical Greek
constellations, a much later invention?
While it's true that in his earlier incarnations, especially in Zoroastrian religion, Mithras was associated with the sun, no tauroctony is ever
mentioned there or anywhere in pre-Roman Mithraic legends. Nor is there even the slightest hint in Persian accounts of Mithras killing some celestial
bull. How is it possible, then, to reconcile the Mithras we see in Rome with his earlier synonymous counterparts? If the answer lies anywhere, it must
be in the stars, so perhaps it's time for us to consult our personal astrologer."
David Ulansey is the source Pack mentioned so here's a little something on his work. All bolded emphasis are mine.
"In a brilliant piece of historical detective work, David Ulansey has pieced together many of the facts known about the Mithras cult and come up with
a fascinating, possibly even correct hypothesis which appears to solve the riddle of the Mithraic mysteries. Avoiding what has bedeviled so many
attempts to explicate the history of this religion, he began from a novel premise, that the three different Mithrases
—that is, the
Indo-Aryan, Zoroastrian and Roman incarnations of the name—were not all the same deity nor part of the same religion.
Instead, he proposed
that for some reason the Roman god merely re-used an ancient and venerable name, perhaps for the simple reason that it was ancient and venerable.
Precession and the Celestial Equator Then he focused on the astrological elements so prevalent in the iconography of the cult and suggested they were
related to an astronomical phenomenon which today is called precession. Precession is the apparent movement of the sun very slowly backwards across
the heavens, meaning that the sun seems to creep around the celestial dome in a direction opposite to the motion of the stars. Of course, the sun does
not revolve around the earth, as the ancients supposed, so, in fact, it is not the sun that's moving but the earth wobbling on its axis as it
rotates, the way a top leans in circles as it spins—it's easiest to understand this if you imagine looking down on the earth from
space—precession is an effect produced when the direction in which the earth's poles point moves slowly in a circle over time.
But because it's happening on such a grand scale, celestial precession is very slow—the earth takes 25,920 years to complete one full
"wobble"—which makes it impossible to detect without both careful measurement and a long and accurate historical record of the position of the
stars in the heavens. But by the Roman period, ancient astronomers had exactly that. Since early history, the Mesopotamians had kept careful diaries
of planetary movements, solar eclipses and the like. Enough of a record existed that Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer living in Asia Minor around 125
BCE, had discovered the fact of precession.
While to us it's an astrophysical anomaly, to people in antiquity it would have been truly earth-shattering news. That's because we look at the
heavens from a heliocentric perspective, one in which the earth revolves around the sun. The ancients, however, saw it the other way around. Ulansey
From the geocentric perspective, the precession (a movement of the earth) appears to be a movement of the entire cosmic sphere. For people who held
both a geocentric world view and the belief that the movements of the stars influenced human fates, the discovery of the precession would have been
literally world-shaking: the stable sphere of the fixed stars was being unseated by some force apparently larger than the cosmos itself. Ancient
intellectuals, accustomed as they were to seeing the work of the gods reflected in the works of nature, could easily have taken this great movement as
evidence for the existence of a powerful, hitherto unsuspected deity.
Along with seeing precession as "world-shaking," the ancients would also have phrased this discovery in terms very different from ours. Accustomed
as they were to envisioning the heavens from an astrological perspective, ancient astronomers regularly described celestial bodies relative to the
twelve signs of the zodiac, the list of constellations still familiar to many today: Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc. One-twelfth of a
precessional cycle is 2160 years, the time it takes the sun to move backwards from one sign of the zodiac to another. For instance, at present we are
under two centuries away from the sun moving out of Pisces into Aquarius, which is why "this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius."
ZodiacExtending that tendency back in time shows that the sun moved from Aries to Pisces in the early first century BCE, and from Taurus to Aries
about two thousand or so years before that, around 2200 BCE, or to put this in astrological terms, " the sun moved out of the house of Taurus"
around the turn of the third millennium BCE. According to Ulansey's thesis, the timing of this precessional shift is no coincidence; rather, it is
the secret that was revealed to those initiated into the Mithraic mysteries.
The iconography visible in the remains of Mithraic art supports this case, and for the first time since the Roman age it has clear meaning. Mithras
kills the bull (Taurus) as the constellations around him watch (Draco the snake and Canis Minor the dog). On the other side of heaven, Scorpio, the
sign exactly opposite Taurus in the zodiac, climbs up the bull's back leg. The tauroctony, then, represents Mithras as the "powerful, hitherto
unsuspected deity" who moves the sun out of the "house of Taurus" by slaying the bull, its sign. The painting of Mithras dining with the Sun serves
only to bolster Ulansey's thesis further.
But one key piece is missing, the same one that's been absent all along: who is Mithras? For all the times it served as the appellation of a god,
Mithras is not the name of any constellation in any civilization's star-charts. As before, perhaps the answer to this final riddle lies not with the
deity himself but in the heavens. If the god's position is always above the bull—and it's worth remembering Mithras never stands anywhere but
directly over the bull in any known depiction of the tauroctony—if that's the case, the constellation above Taurus ought to carry some
And so it does. It's the Greek mythological hero Perseus, the warrior who, among other heroic labors, slew the Medusa, the snake-haired demoness
whose mere gaze turned men to stone. Ulansey suggests that Mithraic religion equated Perseus and Mithras—pairing up divine figures from different
cultures, as we saw with Isis and the Roman gods was a common tradition in the classical world
—and along with the mysteries of precession, that
was the secret which initiates learned upon their induction to the Mithraic cult.
When all these clues are put together, several pieces of the riddle fall into place. Around 125 BCE, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus living in Asia
Minor discovered precession and, according to the thinking of his day, unveiled a universe reeling backwards under the influence of some sort of
cosmic power. From that was postulated the presence of some new deity, or perhaps an old one recognized long ago in a previous time during which
the sun had changed "houses" before.
When calculations showed that the last transition of the sun from one house to another (Taurus to Aries)
had happened around 2200 BCE, there must have been a mad scramble for ancient cuneiform tablets in a desperate search for this god's name.
And, indeed, research into remote Mesopotamian records brought to light a god who'd been connected with the heavens back then—no doubt, the
interceding Persian deity known from Zoroastrian religion in Darius' day had helped to preserve the name Mithras across the centuries—but about
this very ancient Indo-Aryan god little more was known than this alias, even in the first century BCE. Thus, the recovery of the name "Mithras" must
have been somewhat of a disappointment, yet in some ways that was all to the good, since it left room for a whole new system of stories and images to
grow, for a mythology to accrue around this recycled divinity
, a religion that seemed not only ancient but could also be expressed in modern
astrological terms and packaged as science, the way science was understood in the day.
Because it's never wise to be too novel with the public, especially in matters of life and death which are the basic currency of religion, the
obvious solution for the authors of this new-and-old Mithras cult was to link their deity with something generally familiar, a hero like Perseus who
was already well-known, had even been set into heaven and identified as a constellation by that day. And fortuitously Perseus was near Taurus in
heaven, almost directly over it in fact, a coincidence which almost demanded the story that he'd slain the bull from above. The authors of Mithraism
must surely have asked themselves if all this—the timing of precession, Mithras' name in ancient texts, Perseus' presence next to Taurus in
heaven—was really just chance. To them, it must have seemed like the stars were handing down some new secret truth, both a mystery and a religion,
but then that's the way things often look to pioneers of faith.
With this, the time, the place and the players make remarkable sense, and that's not all. Further confirmation of Ulansey's theory emerges from
close examination of what is known otherwise about life in ancient Asia Minor at this period. While in general Greek mythology Perseus is little more
than a mortal hero, he was worshiped as a god in Asia Minor which would have made his equation with Mithras all the easier in that part of the ancient
world. And finally, because astronomers at this time knew the next precession would happen soon thereafter (before 100 CE), the impending shift in the
heavens—the sun moving from Aries to Pisces—can only have added fuel to the cult's fire, giving its adherents something to anticipate and focus
on. Indeed, Mithras worshipers gained increasing attention in Rome, especially from the first century CE on, exactly the moment when the change of
"houses" was proceeding.
Thus, according to this line of reasoning, Mithras was a god cobbled out of used parts
and flung into the heavens to kill a bull and wrench the
universe backwards. This scenario harmonizes so well with the known data about Roman Mithraism—and operates in such close accord with standard
religious practice in antiquity, especially the way it interlards old and new and extends what a culture already embraces, taking its devotees in
innovative directions, but at the same time keeping its truths in trust, the privilege of its initiates—all this make such basic sense it's hard
not to believe Ulansey's thesis is correct. If so, it's little wonder, then, this religion burst out of the gates as fast as it did. It was built
like a theological rocket aimed at the very heavens it purported to unfold.
But a fast start doesn't always mean a long trip—how many drag racers have won the Indianapolis 500?—and this cult is a good case in point.
Mithraism ultimately burnt out, along with the Rome to which it played so brilliantly, and yet at the same time that this religion was fizzling,
Christianity's fire sparked to life and blazed.
Their differences surely, then, shed light on the general nature of ancient religion and, in
particular, why one triumphed and the others disappeared."
[edit on 12-4-2010 by whitewave]