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Mithras, Precursor Of Jesus
By Raymond Towers
Mitra Before Rome
Mithras In Rome
There is a great controversy regarding the Roman sun god Mithras and his links with the Christian sun god Jesus. I have covered a few sun god angles before, such as Hercules as Jesus, and Apollo as Jesus, but those deities are much easier to research and to connect the dots with. As I began this intensive study into all things regarding Mithras, I soon became aware of the huge debate even among the scholars and experts on the subject. Western academics, Iranians and Indians all want first rights to claim their people created this god. This may not be far from the truth, as it seems that the original Indian Mitra went through multiple reinventions to the Persian Mithra and later the Roman Mithras. In a moment, we’ll take a closer look at this controversy for ourselves.
When I undertake a study like this, I’ll look at a number of different sources. I had several documentaries, discussions and books ready to go for this one. This proved to be too much and the disparity between ideas too great for me to get a good handle on them in a short span of time. Nabarz’ book, for example, tallies up at 327 pages, and even the Wikipedia page on Mithras was 33 (Masonic!) pages long. In total, I bookmarked seven long articles or books and four videos that I wanted to go through.
Sometimes, when I do research on a topic, it is because I want to include it into a fiction project I’m working on. That is the case here, as I’ve created a medieval fantasy world where Mithras is the primary deity instead of Yahweh or Jesus. My needs are for a decent grasp on generalities regarding Mithras, and so I’ve decided to set aside the books for now and to concentrate on the information I’ve absorbed from the videos. I may go through the books at a later date to produce a more detailed or supplementary article, but for now I think I have enough information to incorporate into my story plots that will give readers a good idea of what Mithras is all about.
Originally, I had four videos slotted for later viewing, but one proved to be too random and made unfounded claims, so I tossed that last one out. After doing another search on Youtube, I found the Nabarz interview, giving me two pro-Western viewpoints, one neutral, and one pro-Persian point of view. In this article, I want to give an outline of who Mithras was based on these multiple expert opinions and research, his origins, and his connections to the Christian god Jesus.
Mitra Before Rome
Mithras was known in both India and Persia, now modern day Iran. As Mitra, he is mentioned as a minor or major god in the Indian Vedas, depending on the scholar. There is a debate as to when the Vedas were first written. Bible apologists will say the Vedas came about in 900 BCE, when the stories found in the Old Testament were first heard in oral traditions. This implies that Indian and Jewish mythologies developed at the same time, or contemporaneously. However, other Western scholars trace the Vedas back to 1500 BCE, coinciding with the Aryan invasion of India. I have an Indian modern day Mithraist saying that from his research; Mithra was known to Iran and India in 2000 BCE. To make things even more complicated, some Vedas mention the melting of Ice Age glaciers, and that was way back in 11,000 or so BCE!
We can’t really prove when Mitra / Mithra first emerged, past that it was much earlier than the advent of Jesus. We know that the Indian name of this deity was Mitra Varuna, and the Zoroastrian name was Mitra. From what Atabaki claims, and this is very possible thanks to the many waves of immigrants out of India, the Persian peoples were originally Aryans from the Indus Valley, so they may have simply carried their Indian god over when they moved and made a few changes as the years went by. Note that early Europeans are called Indo-Europeans, again alluding to an Aryan origin in India.
In Zoroastrianism, the creator god Ahura-Mazda created a son during a time before humanity. This cosmology dates back to 1300 BCE. In Persia / Iran, Mithra was a god of signing and fulfilling contracts. He is seen as a mediator and his name means friendship. The first recorded handshake comes from 1400 BCE, where we see artwork of Mithra shaking the right hand of a Hittite king as a sign of an arrangement or contract. Also, the sun was thought of as being the eye of Mithras, similar to the Egyptian Ra.
Sometime between 200 BCE and 100 CE, the mythology of Mithra spread west into the Mediterranean. Maybe merchants or soldiers brought it with them when they returned from the frontiers of the Roman Empire, or maybe it was the Roman hierarchy, or maybe it was even pirates. We simply don’t know.
Mithras In Rome
In the 1st Century CE, we see an explosion of Mithraic temples in Western countries. Some say the Cult of Mithras first started in Greece, while others say it was in Rome. The Roman sect might have originated in Anatolia, Turkey. This was a widespread cult, but I have heard some researchers say it was localized and because it was so small Christianity quickly overshadowed it. However, the list of countries and regions with Mithrae (temples to Mithras) is quite extensive: Armenia, Celtic lands, Great Britain, Greece, Germany, North Africa, Palestine, Rome / Italy and Spain. Over 100 temples have been excavated, including one or several under the Vatican. The cult was prominent for only about 200 years, before Christianity eclipsed it in the 3rd Century.
From the start, Mithraism was an exclusive cult. Only a very small percentage of men were part of it, including Roman upper hierarchy and military officers. The cult has been referred to as the Mysteries of Mithras or as a Mystery School. We do find secrecy among its members, including private rituals and a select membership through multiple levels of initiation. Unfortunately, no written records exist. Most of what we know about this cult comes from the writings of rival Christians.
Mithrae were rectangular structures 10 to 20 meters long and 5 meters wide. They were built into the ground, so that a visitor would have to walk down steps as if they were entering the earth. This was a very unusual construction method for those 1st Century days. Plato wrote that the temples represented caves and metaphorically the entire world. Long, raised benches were found along the walls on the left and right, with an aisle leading up to a raised and centered altar at the back of the room. An estimated 20 to 40 worshipers could fit into a temple at one time. Most modern churches today are set up in a similar fashion.
Behind the altar, we always see a relief carving of Mithras slaying the bull. Mithras is dressed in Persian clothing, wearing a Phrygian cap, a cloak and a trouser-suit. This artwork also depicts esoteric astrological symbolism. The symbols include the bull (to represent the constellation of Taurus), the dog (Canis Major), the serpent (Serpens), a crab (Cancer) and a scorpion (Scorpio). The image as a whole appears to show the path of the sun as it enters and exits this world, and also the precession of the equinox spaced out to 1800 years. Mithras killing the bull inside of a cave (the world) could represent the end of the age of Taurus. The killing of the bull is called the Tauroctony. Over 700 artistic examples of the Tauroctony survive today.
Other artifacts also show esoteric, Mystery School leanings. Some art shows the cave surrounded with images representing the twelve signs of the zodiac. Other art shows a figure holding up a torch, and another holding the torch down. We also see solar and lunar chariots. Some carvings show Mithras holding a dagger and a torch, or a dagger and the world, while others show him holding a staff. (Not by coincidence, 1st Century Christian art shows Jesus performing miracles and healing the sick with a wand or a staff.) A carving shows Mithras shooting an arrow at a rock and having water spring out, similar to Moses striking a rock with a staff to the same effect in Exodus 17:6.
In some versions, Mithras was born from a rock. The name of this rock is Petra Genetrix. Petra means rock, and it is close to Petros, or Peter, who is considered the rock of the Christian Church. Mithras is sometimes portrayed wearing a crown with seven sunrays on it, similar to the U.S. Statue of Liberty.
A stone carving reads that the powerful primordial bull Mithras slays is the first begotten creature. Mithras must shed the bull’s blood as a sacrifice to save humanity. He struggles with the bull and carries it on his back like a shepherd carries sheep, taking it into the cave. The cave may represent the Cosmic Egg or the universe. After the sacrifice, the blood and semen of the bull rejuvenate humanity. An actual bull was not slain in the Mithrae, as there is no evidence of that. However, bull meat or meat from other animals could have been prepared elsewhere and eaten inside the temple. Animal remains have been found, suggesting that feasting did take place there.
After the slaying of the bull, Mithras ascends to heaven and rejoins his father Ahura-Mazda. Through the Mysteries of Mithras, his followers are re-born and created anew.
We don’t have written records of what went on inside the temples, but we do have a lot of artwork. Carvings show people reclining on the benches or couches, and eating from low tables. New members or initiates called Ravens served food. We see processions in the art, swords, blindfolds and initiates lying down on the ground. These rituals are very similar to what is seen in Freemasonry.
Initiates went through seven stages of initiation, ranging from the first level of Raven up to the seventh level of Father. The typical level was in the middle, the Lion. Passing from one level to the next required a member having to go through some kind of ordeal, again similar to Masonry or college or military hazing. The seven levels coincide with the seven rays on the crown of Mithras, the seven visible planetary bodies and / or the seven chakras. Here is the best breakdown of the various grades I could come up with, but I don’t know where the Lion Leo fits in:
1st Grade – Mercury, Raven, resurrection / rebirth
2nd Grade – Venus, male bride?
3rd Grade – Mars, soldier
4th Grade – Jupiter, lightning bolt
5th Grade – Luna, crescent moon
6th Grade – Sol, crown with 7 rays
7th Grade – Saturn, Father
The name Mithras has a numerical value of 365 in Greek. This is the number of days in a solar year. In addition, we can speculate that Mithras had commandments, because Roman Emperor Julian referred to them in his writings, but we don’t know exactly what they were. There is a hotly debated claim that Constantine worshiped Mithras after he allegedly converted to Christianity. I have heard that said about Constantine worshiping Apollo as well.