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Mithras - Christianity Borrowed the Resurrection Myth From Mithra? - By Mark McFall

Mithras - Christianity Borrowed the Resurrection Myth From Mithra? - By Mark McFall

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Published by Gilbert Hanz
The response from critics to the lack of archaeology finds prior to 90 A.D., is to cite the historian Plutarch (aprox. 34-125 A.D.) who made reference to Mithras in the pre-Christian era.
The response from critics to the lack of archaeology finds prior to 90 A.D., is to cite the historian Plutarch (aprox. 34-125 A.D.) who made reference to Mithras in the pre-Christian era.

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Published by: Gilbert Hanz on Apr 29, 2014
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Mithras -
Christianity borrowed the
 
resurrection myth from Mithra?
 
By Mark McFall
This investigation of Mithraism will mainly focus on the critics assertion that Christianity  borrowed the resurrection myth from Mithra. The reason that we will be zooming in on the resurrection and not similarities in sacraments is because the very heart of the Gospel rests in the resurrection narrative. If the resurrection was borrowed from pagan influences and did not historically happen, then as Paul says:
"...if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is
vain 
 , your
faith 
 also is
vain 
 (1 Corn. 15:14). Assertions made by critics for a Mithra-Jesus connection abound in literature critical of Christianity. One such example can be found in the works of contemporary Muslim scholar Yousuf Saleem Chishti in his book "
What is Christianity
". Chishti writes:
 
"The Christian doctrine of atonement was greatly coloured by the influence of the mystery religions, especially Mithraism, which had its own son of God and virgin Mother,
and crucifixion and resurrection 
 after expiating for the sins of mankind and finally his ascension to the 7th heaven....
If you study the teachings of Mithraism side by side with that of Christianity,
 you are sure to be amazed at the close affinity which is visible between them, so much so that many critics are constrained to conclude that Christianity is the facsimile or the  second edition of Mithraism.
1
Another leading proponent of that view is Acharya S in her critical book
The Christ Conspiracy
, she states that Mithra "
was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again". 
2
 These alleged direct connections with Jesus must be backed with evidence - and as Christians we must demand such evidence.
 
Where Is That Evidence?
 
This subject basically comes down to who is more informed in Mithriac origins, and my intentions are to equip you with adequate critical information. What some critics seem to be unaware of is that attempts to reconstruct the beliefs and practices of Mithraism face enormous challenges because of the lack of information that has survived. In fact, we posses
no
 existing texts of their belief system that come from the Mithraic devotees themselves (one is left wondering what sources Chishti knows about that the rest of Mithraic scholars are unaware of). The only references that we have concerning the beliefs of Mithraism are found
in early Church fathers (for the reason of defending Christ’s uniqueness) and
Platonic  philosophers who used Mithraic symbolism for their own philosophical ideas.
3
Archaeology And Timing
 
 
According to scholars, our late literary sources are extremely sparse concerning Mithriasm. However, there is an abundance of material evidence (i.e. artifacts) for the existence of Mithraism that has been found in underground temples (i.e. imitation caves) referred to as mithraeums. Attempts concerning dating methods have been made in the past in an endeavor to place at least one of these mithraeum in the first century era. Professor Ronald Nash the author of
The Gospel And The Greeks,
captures one of these moments by the Swedish scholar George Widengren. He claimed that an excavation at Dura (Europos) is a mithraeum dated to A.D. 80-85 which points to the possible presence of a Mithraic cult before the end of the first century A.D..
4
 Critics who cite Widengren dating system should do well to know that Widengren himself has admitted that "the evidence is very uncertain."
5
 According to other scholars, including the noted mithriac scholar M.J. Vermaseren, the Dura Mithraeum that Widengren dated so early should be dated much later, in A.D. 168.
6
Archaeologist have found in these subterranean mithraeums artifacts of carved reliefs, statues, and paintings, depicting a variety of enigmatic figures and scenes.
7
 These images are our only primary source of knowledge about Mithraic beliefs
8
 (there are no written accounts to aid us in interpreting these images). Mithraic scholars identify the particular depiction of Mithras in the act of killing a bull as the central icon of Mithraism known as the
tauroctony
 or "bull-slaying scene." In this scene Mithras is accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven, and a scorpion.
9
 According Nash, none of these representative "
monuments for the cult can be dated earlier than A.D. 90-100." 
 Nash identifies this as
"one of the major reasons why no Mithraic influence on first-century Christianity is possible
."
 Indeed, the bulk of out-side references for Roman Mithraism date between the 2nd-5th centuries.
These late literary out-side sources are the on
ly means in which scholars (or critics) attempt to form reconstruction’s of
what they think (uncritically) were the beliefs of earlier pioneers for the mystery cult. This type of reasoning is particularly bad scholarship and should not be left without challenge. The Plutarch reference of Mithra Prior To The New Testament The response from critics to the lack of archaeology finds prior to 90 A.D., is to cite the historian Plutarch (aprox. 34-125 A.D.) who made reference to Mithras in the pre-Christian era. Plutarch writes:
 
"They themselves [the Cilician pirates] offered strange sacrifices upon Mount Olympus, and  performed certain secret rites or religious mysteries, among which those of Mithras have been preserved to our own time having received their previous institution from them."
(Plutarch,
 Lives
)
 
According to the critical view,
"Plutarch reports that Mithraism was introduce to the soldiers of Pompey the Great by Cilician pirates. Although it didn't flourish until later, it may well have been introduced in some form in the first century B.C.E.
They charge that there were
"worshippers of Mithras in Rome in Pompey's time (67 BC)." 
 
In response to this, professor Nash comments that: "...any
conclusion along this line can be, at best, only an inference from Plutarch’s text,
which itself makes no such claim. All Plutarch states explicitly is that some of the pirates  practiced Mithraic mysteries and that some of them in all likely hood were taken to Rome as
trophies of Pompey’s victory. But Plutarch himself does not state that Mithraism was
established in Italy in or before 67 B.C.
 However, if the critics are right in their interpretation of Plutarch, it is only by speculations and assumptions that lead them (the critics) to assume that the alleged
resurrection 
 of Mithra was in practices as an ideology in its very earliest development in Rome. Even at its peek of  popularity in the 2nd-4th centuries we are still left with no primary evidence to indicate a resurrection of Mithra. It is also worth noting that Mithriac scholars of the
 First International Congress of Mithraic Studies
acknowledge that there exists today an ideology problem in tracing Mithraic belief.
 
One scholar lamented that:
 "At present our knowledge of both general and local cult practice in respect of rites of  passage, ceremonial feats and even
underlying ideology 
 is based more on conjecture than on  fact.
Moreover, the Greco-Roman scholar Richard Gordon advises us that there is
"no death of  Mithras."  
So if there is no death of Mithras, how are we able to identify that there was any type of resurrection at all? The lack of any artifacts dated prior to 90 A.D. seems to im
 ply that Plutarch’s reference to
the Mithras religion was in all probability to a very small and secretive society (if indeed the
critics are right in interpreting Plutarch’s reference).
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization
 estimates that at its height in popularity [2nd - 5th centuries], it never encompassed more than 2% of the population.
 It is at this point, that when we look back and try to speculate what percentage of the population was influenced by a more primitive  prototype of Mithriasm, that we begin to see the improbability of such an influence on the writers of the New Testament. Mithraism was basically a military cult which excluded women. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary  people like the early Christians. Two Mithras
 
Most critics are unaware that there are two distinct forms of this pagan mystery religion under the same name - Mithra. They are Roman Mithraism, and Iranian Mithraism. Critics more times than not confuse the two forms in an attempt to trace Roman Mithraism as far  back as they can. However, these two versions of Mithraism have no direct connection with each other. Critics respond to this by saying:
 
"...Mithraism arose in the region of what is now Iran and spread to
 
 Rome. Roman forms of worship may have been different than those in Persia/Iran, but to say that there's no direct

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