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Platonism, Paganism and Early Christianity

 

This website is under construction and was last modified on:  13 April 2011

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In Proclus [410-485 A.D.] we have the culminating point of the Neo-Platonic philosophy; this method in philosophy is carried into later times, continuing even through the whole of the Middle Ages. ... in 529 A.D. the Emperor Justinian caused this school [the Academy] to be closed, ... Although the Neo-Platonic school ceased to exist outwardly, ideas of the Neo-Platonists, and specially the philosophy of Proclus, were long maintained and preserved in the Church; and later on we shall on several occasions refer to it. In the earlier, purer, mystical scholastics we find the same ideas as are seen in Proclus, and until comparatively recent times, when in the Catholic Church, God is spoken of in a profound and mystical way, the ideas expressed are Neo-Platonic.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Translation by Elizabeth S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, English edition published in 1896.

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Purpose of this Website

Hegel in 1831

Nietzsche in 1867

Heidegger ca. 1955

 

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was one of the greatest Idealist philosophers of all time. Hegel is particularly noted for his creation of a dialectical system for understanding the history of philosophical ideas, which he described as a progression in which each successive philosophical system emerges as a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding systems. He was particularly knowledgeable concerning Greek Philosophy, including the Neoplatonists.  As the above quotation demonstrates, he believed that Christian theology was significantly influenced by Neoplatonism.

The 19th century German philosopher, Frederick Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), was academically trained in classical philology and is generally considered to be the greatest Greek philologist of the 19th century. In 1886, he provided a controversial but succinct assessment of Platonism and Christianity in the preface to his book entitled Beyond Good and Evil:

The most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error--namely, Plato's invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself. But now when it has been surmounted, when Europe, rid of this nightmare, can again draw breath freely and at least enjoy a healthier--sleep, we, whose duty is wakefulness itself, are the heirs of all the strength which the struggle against this error has fostered. It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of ... the fundamental condition ... of life, to speak of Spirit and the Good as Plato spoke of them; indeed one might ask, as a physician: "How did such a malady attack that finest product of antiquity, Plato? Had the wicked Socrates really corrupted him? Was Socrates after all a corrupter of youths, and deserved his hemlock?" But the struggle against Plato, ... the struggle against the ecclesiastical oppression of millenniums of Christianity (FOR CHRISTIANITY IS PLATONISM FOR THE "PEOPLE"), produced in Europe a magnificent tension of soul, such as had not existed anywhere previously; with such a tensely strained bow one can now aim at the furthest goals.

Frederick Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), from the preface to his book entitled Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

Thus, Nietzsche most clearly asserted that "Christianity is Platonism for the people."

Another German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), upon reflection, agreed with Nietzsche's assertion; Heidegger, in his book entitled Introduction to Metaphysics (first published 1953), writes the following:

The Greeks ... had first to tear Being away from seeming and preserve it against seeming. ... Only by undergoing the struggle between Being and seeming did they wrest Being forth from beings, did they bring beings into constancy and unconcealment: the gods and the state, the temples and the tragedies, athletic competition and philosophy--all this in the midst of seeming, besieged by it, but also taking it seriously, knowing its power. Only with the sophists and Plato was seeming explained as, and thus reduced to, mere seeming. At the same time, Being as idea was elevated to a supersensory realm. The chasm, charismas, was torn open between the merely apparent beings here below and the real Being somewhere up there. Christian doctrine then established itself in this chasm, while at the same time reinterpreting the Below as the created and the Above as the Creator, and with weapons thus reforged, it set itself against antiquity [as Paganism] and distorted it. And so Nietzsche is right to say that Christianity is Platonism for the people.

Both Frederick Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger were raised as Christians; Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran minister and Heidegger was the son of a Roman Catholic sexton.  Each man was well versed in Platonic philosophy and both concluded that Christianity was basically just a "dumbed-down" simplified version of Platonism, altered to make it understandable and popular with the uneducated masses.

The well-known historian of science, Giorgio de Santillana (1902-1974), noted the following concerning Neoplatonism and Christianity:

The third of what we called the scientific religions, which outstrips the others in historical significance, inasmuch as it provided the foundations for Christian philosophy, is Neoplatonism. This is not simply, as its name might suggest, a revival of Platonism.  In fact, the succession of trends inside the Academy founded by Plato shows bewildering shifts ... from one end of the philosophical spectrum to the other.  The immediate successors of Plato ... plunge into Pythagorean numerology ... After that the swing through the Middle and New Academy is very much toward sober criticism ... and ends up in total skepticism ... Then it swings back to critical skepticism ... But if the skeptical movement revives the spirit of free and open inquiry of the Platonic dialogues, it could hardly satisfy the minds of late antiquity in search of reassurance.  It is no wonder, therefore, if the pendulum swings further back to Plato the theologian, the dispenser of "golden eloquence," of sublimity and certainty beyond this world.

The Origins of Scientific Thought (published 1961), page 306.

Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger were among the greatest philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Professor de Santillana was one of the preeminent historians of the Western scientific tradition in the 20th century.  Accordingly, their views regarding the influence of Platonic philosophy on Christian theology should be given careful consideration.

My initial purpose in establishing this website was to review the known evidence regarding the formation of the early Catholic Church and test the validity of Nietzsche's assertion.  However, while conducting studies toward that goal, I noted that early Christianity was also greatly influenced by many pagan religious beliefs prevalent during the early centuries A.D. As a result I expanded my initial purpose into a twofold goal as follows:

I)  Show that much of the higher theology of early orthodox Christianity derives from the Greek philosophical schools of the time, particularly from Plato and the Neoplatonists;

II)  Show that many other aspects of orthodox Christianity derive from earlier pagan sources (particularly from Egypt), i.e., Christianity existed before Christ!

 

 

I. Christian Theology Derived from Greek Philosophy

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If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians (who differed from their fellow Jews only in the belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah,) was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief. The doctrine of the incarnation, and the mystery of transubstantiation, were both adopted, and are both as repugnant to reason, as was the ancient pagan rite of viewing the entrails of animals to forecast the fate of empires!

Edward Gibbon, Preface to: History of Christianity: Comprising All That Relates to the Progress of the Christian Religion in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", and a Vindication of Some Passages in the 15th and 16th Chapters  (New York, NY: Peter Eckler, 1891), page xvi.

 

Diversity of Early Christianity

Christianity of the first, second and third centuries A.D. was not the monolithic entity that it became in the fourth century, immediately subsequent to its recognition as an official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 A.D. (Edict of Milan). Three important discoveries in the mid 20th century all point towards an early Christianity that was incredibly diverse.  These discoveries were:

1)  Ancient Gnostic texts found in upper Egypt at Nag Hammadi in December 1945;

2)  Ancient Hebrew scrolls found in Palestine at the Wadi Qumran near the Dead Sea in 1947-1956; and

3)  Ancient Coptic text of the Gospel of Judas found in Egypt at Beni Masah in the 1970's.

Scholarly analysis of these texts strongly imply that the early Christians held widely divergent beliefs; the emergence of a single monolithic, orthodox Church did not occur until well after the time of Constantine.  Probably, this consolidation took at least two centuries to consummate and was not completed until the reign of the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century A.D.

To support this view, I offer quotations from two of the most influential and respected biblical scholars of our modern era:

1)  Bart D. Ehrman:

... Early Christianity was remarkably, almost unbelievably, diverse. There were different Christians all saying different things – about God, Christ, the world, salvation, the Jews, in fact, about just everything. And all these Christians believed they were right and that all others were wrong. And all of them had sacred books to prove their claims, books allegedly written by the disciples of Jesus himself. Only some of these books became the New Testament, and so only some of the beliefs survived down through the ages. The others were eventually ruled out as heresies. ... just as Christianity today is incredibly diverse (compare the Roman Catholics with the Mormons with the Pentecostals with the Seventh Day Adventists with the Eastern Orthodox… and so on!), it was even more diverse in the early centuries, when the most important aspects of the new faith were debated and fought over.

Bart D. Ehrman (James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), extract from an Oxford University internet interview given on 9 October 2006.

2)  Elaine Pagels:

For those of us who study the beginning of Western civilization, the field has been transformed by several recent discoveries. One of them is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and to me much more interesting is the discovery made in Upper Egypt, equally accidental, which was the discovery of ancient Christian texts from the beginning of the Christian era. These discoveries are transforming the way we look at Western culture and the history of religion in the West. My work centers on the diversities of the beginning of Western religion and how our perception of that is being transformed through these discoveries. What was discovered in December, 1945 was a large library of ancient manuscripts which ranged from classical texts to early Christian texts, which transformed the way we see the beginning of the Christian movement. Many people have seen it as monolithic, as if it were a tradition that just keeps accreting and building and basically saying the same thing. We now see that Christianity, like Judaism, like Islam, is enormously diverse in its beginning and could have turned out very differently from what we see now. ... many other forms of Christianity were suppressed—by certain Christian leaders—to consolidate an extraordinarily diverse movement, and to attempt to ensure its survival. ...

... One young Christian, named Irenaeus, .. resolved to consolidate the surviving Christians into a single organization worldwide—which he called the "catholic" (that is, "universal") church. To do this, he urged Christians to destroy all the various teachings and "gospels," except those now contained in the New Testament. Now, he declared, all should believe the same thing, and stop asking questions. Instead of many groups of believers, Irenaeus insisted, all true Christians should belong to the "one, holy, universal ("catholic") church."

What was discovered in Egypt includes over fifty of the gospels and writings that he tried to banish and discredit. And it's no accident—and no surprise, when you think about it—that Irenaeus' kind of Christianity—authoritative, simple, hierarchical—is what many Christians, including many politically minded Christians, still declare is the "only true Christianity" today. For with the surprise conversion of Emperor Constantine in the year 312 the situation of Christians transformed from that of an illegal group to becoming the religion of the empire. Constantine apparently found in it a new way of organizing—and justifying—the politics of imperialism.

... What we now see is that what orthodox Christianity teachers taught—that Jesus was somehow God in human form—was by no means what Jesus taught, although some of his earliest followers taught that—the apostle Paul, for example. The New Testament Gospel of John, written about sixty years after Jesus' death, declares that Jesus is God in human form—God descending into the world to save humanity from sin. Those who believe in him, John says, are saved; God condemns all others to eternal torment.

But the discoveries show very different versions of Jesus' message—some coming from our earliest sources. Now we can see that the author of the Gospel of John was writing to refute other, earlier teachings that he regarded as threatening—and wrong—like the teaching found in the Gospel of Thomas. ... This gospel, then, and many others in the same find, suggest a kind of egalitarian, "do it yourself" Christianity, which bishops like Irenaeus decided was antithetical to his project of building a single, authoritative, "catholic church," outside of which, he insisted, "there is no salvation." And after Christianity became the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, the emperor endorsed the bishops' authority, along with the first official creed—the "Nicene creed," hammered out at a meeting of bishops convened by Constantine—and the books in the New Testament canon as the sole authority for divine truth.

Elaine Pagels (Professor of Early Christian History at Princeton University), extract from an interview with Edge.org on 17 July 2003.

 

Irenaeus and the Four Gospels

As Elaine Pagels notes above, there were more than 50 gospels and other writings circulating among the early Christians.  Out of this group, why were only four gospels considered canonical and all other gospels heretical?   Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon, France), was a pioneer in establishing the set of four orthodox gospels that are in use today. In about 170 A.D., he wrote a work entitled Against Heresies which includes (at Book 3, Chapter 11, Part 8) the following comments:

So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavors to establish his own peculiar doctrine. For the Ebionites, who use Matthew's Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those, moreover, who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel, as I have shown in the first book. Since, then, our opponents do bear testimony to us, and make use of these [documents], our proof derived from them is firm and true.

But it is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are.  For since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church has been scattered throughout the world, and since the "pillar and ground" of the church is the Gospel and the spirit of life, it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing incorruption on every side, and vivifying human afresh. From this fact, it is evident that the Logos, the fashioner demiourgos [Demiurge] of all, he that sits on the cherubim and holds all things together, when he was manifested to humanity, gave us the gospel under four forms but bound together by one spirit.

 

Plato and Neoplatonism

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With the advent of Neoplatonism founded by Ammonius and developed by Plotinus, Platonism definitely entered the cause of Paganism against Christianity. Nevertheless, the great majority of the Christian philosophers down to St. Augustine were Platonists. They appreciated the uplifting influence of Plato's psychology and metaphysics, and recognized in that influence a powerful ally of Christianity in the warfare against materialism and naturalism. ... there are many philosophers and groups of philosophers in modern times who owe much to the inspiration of Plato, and to the enthusiasm for the higher pursuits of the mind which they derived from the study of his works.

Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) -- Online Edition

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Few modern-day Christian theologians would deny that Christianity contains many elements in common with Platonism. The most common view articulated by these theologians is similar to that of the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) cited above. However, few Churchmen would acknowledge that these elements were directly derived from Greek philosophy and were not part of the teachings of Jesus, but rather were added years later by Hellenized converts who were familiar with the philosophy of Plato, Philo of Alexandria (the "Jewish Plato"), and the Neoplatonists.

A brief history of Plato's Academy and summaries of the metaphysical beliefs of Plato, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus and other important Neoplatonists may be found at my website entitled The Golden Chain of Platonic Succession.

 

Major Jewish and Christian Platonists

Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-50 A.D.) was a contemporary of Jesus but apparently never met him or even heard of him.  He was known as the "Jewish Plato" and probably  was a great intellectual influence on the writers of the New Testament. At least four early Christian Church Fathers were self avowed Platonists:  Clement of Alexandria (150-216 A.D.), Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.), Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite of Syria (late 5th and early 6th century A.D.) .  Origen was a student of the founder of Neoplatonism, Ammonius Saccas (third century A.D.) of Alexandria. A century later, Augustine would be influenced by Plotinus, another student of Ammonius, whose fame as a Platonist is second only to that of Plato himself. Pseudo-Dionysius was a major Christian philosopher residing in Syria at the end of the 5th century.  He was heavily influenced by the thinking of the great Neoplatonist, Proclus of Athens and may indeed have studied under him.

Pages devoted to discussions of these five Jewish and Christian Platonists are available at these hyperlinks:

Philo of Alexandria Clement of Alexandria Origin of Alexandria St. Augustine of Hippo Pseudo-Dionysius

 

 

The Emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and the Nicene Creed

 

Emperor Constantine I (Ruled from 306-337 A.D.)

 

Council of Nicaea (Convened 325 A.D.)

The First Council of Nicea was convened in the summer of 325 A.D. The Council was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who also was a major participant. Several years previously, Constantine had adopted Christianity as the state religion. He had several practical political reasons for this, which have been discussed above.  Unfortunately a major theological schism had developed which threatened to destroy Christian unity. A unified Church under the control of the Emperor was a fundamental cornerstone of Constantine's religious policy; accordingly, he could not allow this schism to continue. He intended to make sure that, one way or another, the disagreement would be brought to an end.

A major Church leader, Presbyter Arius (251-336 A.D.) of Alexandria, was teaching that Jesus Christ was not a divine being fully equal to God the Father; Jesus was considered to be an entity who had been created as a divine being by God the Father. The following quote, attributed to Arius, describes the essence of Arian doctrine:

If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he [the Son] had his substance from nothing.

Most of the other leading Bishops of the Church disagreed with this position and believed that Jesus was a full equal of God the father in every way. The principal result of the Council of Nicaea was that Arianism was condemned and Arius was exiled by Constantine. A new creed was developed and promulgated by the Council, the Nicene Creed, which expressly stated that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine (see below).

 

Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted and utilized statement of the Christian Faith. In liturgical churches, it is said every Sunday as part of the church service. It is used by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, and many other Christian denominations. Many groups that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches.

The original Nicene Creed was adopted in 325 A.D. at the First Council of Nicaea. At that time, the text ended after the words "And in the Holy Ghost." It is traditionally believed that the second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 A.D. added the section that follows the words "And in the Holy Ghost" (without the words "and the Son" relative to the procession of the Spirit); hence the name "Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed", referring to the Creed as modified in the First Council of Constantinople.

The following table compares the original (325 AD) and later (381 AD) versions of this Creed. The English translation is as given in Creeds of Christendom by Philip Schaff (1819-1893), which indicates by [square brackets] those portions of the 325 text that were omitted or modified in 381, and uses boldface italics to indicate what phrases, absent in the 325 text, were added in 381.

First Council of Nicea (325)

 

First Council of Constantinople (381)
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; by whom all things were made;
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;
  whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.
  In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The following text is a modern English version of the Nicene Creed promulgated by the Interdenominational Committee on Liturgical Texts:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

AMEN.

 

 

The Christian Trinity

 

Christ as the Incarnation of the Logos

 

Mystery of Transubstantiation

 

II. Christianity before Christ

 

Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

That which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist; from the beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, Retractions, Book One, Part 12, "One Book on the True Religion."

The above cited statement by Saint Augustine is most startling!  He asserts that Christianity existed before Christ's sojourn on the earth.  Saint Augustine not only was a student of both Plato and Plotinus, but he also had read some of the Egyptian Hermetic writings.  Most notably he had read the Hermetic text called Asclepius and cites it extensively in his own work entitled The City of God.  He believed Hermes Trismegistus, the principal teacher cited in the Hermetic writings, to have been a real historical figure who lived around the time of Moses.  Many teachings of this Hermes were similar but not identical to Christianity.  It may be that he was thinking of Hermeticism when he said that true religion already existed before Christianity.

 

G. I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949)

Furthermore, he is not the only person to have made such an assertion.  Similar statements have also been made by many advocates of what may best be called "Esoteric Christianity."  One notable example is a similar assertion, attributed to the Fourth Way master, Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff, cited in the book In Search of the Miraculous (pages 302-303) by P. D. Ouspensky:

The Christian church, the Christian form of worship, was not invented by the fathers of the church. It was all taken in a ready-made form from Egypt, only not from the Egypt that we know but from one which we do not know. This Egypt was in the same place as the other but it existed much earlier. Only small bits of it survived in historical times, and these bits have been preserved in secret and so well that we do not even know where they have been preserved.

It will seem strange to many people when I say that this prehistoric Egypt was Christian many thousands of years before the birth of Christ, that is to say, that its religion was composed of the same principles and ideas that constitute true Christianity. Special schools existed in this prehistoric Egypt which were called 'schools of repetition.' In these schools a public repetition was given on definite days, and in some schools perhaps even every day, of the entire course in a condensed form of the sciences that could be learned at these schools. Sometimes this repetition lasted a week or a month. Thanks to these repetitions people who had passed through this course did not lose their connection with the school and retained in their memory all they had learned. Sometimes they came from very far away simply in order to listen to the repetition and went away feeling their connection with the school. There were special days of the year when the repetitions were particularly complete, when they were carried out with particular solemnity—and these days themselves possessed a symbolical meaning.

These 'schools of repetition' were taken as a model for Christian churches—the form of worship in Christian churches almost entirely represents the course of repetition of the science dealing with the universe and man. Individual prayers, hymns, responses, all had their own meaning in this repetition as well as holidays and all religious symbols, though their meaning has been forgotten long ago.

 

Serapis Religion of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt

The God Serapis and His Consort Isis with the Three Headed Dog Cerberus

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SERAPIS:  Syncretic god worshipped as a supreme deity in Egypt to the end of the 4th century A.D. The highly popular cult of Serapis used many trappings that were later adopted by Christians: chants, lights, bells, vestments, processions, and music. Serapis represented a final transformation of the savior Osiris into a monotheistic figure, virtually identical to the Christian god... This Ptolemaic god was a combination of Osiris and Apis... As Christ was a sacrificial lamb, so Serapis was a sacrificial bull as well as god in human form. He was annually sacrificed in atonement for the sins of Egypt.

Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (published 1983)

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The belief expressed by the journalist and writer Barbara G. Walker, quoted above, is similar to that of many earlier writers on the history of Christian origins, such as John G. Jackson, Gerald Massey, G. R. S. Mead and Albert Churchward.  Unfortunately, Walker and these other writers are not professional scholars in the academic sense.  They rarely ever cite any primary evidence for their assertions and indeed tend to cite each other as the main sources for their conclusions!  While I also believe that the Serapis Religion was a significant influence on the development of early Christianity, hard evidence is needed to support that conclusion.  By hard evidence, I mean such things as statements made by contemporary or near contemporary Greek and Roman authors, physical evidence obtained from archaeological excavations, and genuine epigraphic sources. To identify the meager scholarly materials that I can find concerning the Serapis religion, I have established a seperate web page appended to this site to further discuss this subject.

 

The Christ Fable - Pope Leo X's Statement

Pope Leo X

Cardinal Pietro Bembo

Cardinal Paolo Giovio

Renaissance Pope Leo X (Pope from 1513-1521) made an extremely damaging statement about the historical truthfulness of the Christian Church. Leo was a non-priest when he was elected Pope and was the second son of the famous Lorenzo de Medici, ruler of Florence. He was highly intelligent and exceptionally well educated in Neoplatonic philosophy; he also was a major patron of the arts. Indeed, it was his Papal extravagance in support of the arts, that necessitated the mass selling of Papal indulgences and other revenue generating abuses.  These abuses led a German monk, Martin Luther, to nail "The 95 Theses" on the Wittenberg Church Door in 1517, thus beginning the Reformation!

Pope Leo's statement strongly implied papal knowledge that the hierarchy of the early Christian Church had falsely represented the story of Jesus Christ in the New Testament writings and elsewhere. At a lavish Good Friday banquet in the Vatican in 1514, in the company of seven close friends (see Annales Ecclesiastici, Caesar Baronius, Folio Antwerp, 1597, Tome 14), Leo made an amazing announcement. Raising a chalice of wine into the air, Pope Leo X toasted:

"How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of Christ has been for us and our predecessors."

The pope's pronouncement is recorded in the diaries and records of two eye witnesses: 1) the Papal secretary, Cardinal Bembo (see Letters and Comments on Pope Leo X , Pietro Bembo, English Edition, published 1842) and 2) Leo X's biographer, Cardinal Giovio (see De Vita Leonis Decimi, Pontificus Maximus, Paolo Giovio, English Edition published 1897).

 

Pagan Beliefs Incorporated within Early Christianity

The following paragraphs provide some examples of Pagan elements within the Christian belief system.  Most of these elements were first derived from the ancient mystery schools, particularly those of Egypt. The examples are just a few that I happen to be familiar with and should not be regarded as collectively exhaustive.  Most of the examples are associated with major archetypes as defined by the eminent psychologist Carl G. Jung (1876-1961). As archetypes, it should not be surprising to observe these same myths and symbols occurring in many religions and philosophies over the last several millennia.

Some Views of Martin Luther King

The well known Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King (1929-1968), was a well educated man holding a Batchelor of Divinity Degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania (1951) and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Systematic Theology from Boston University (1955).  In 1950, while at Crozer he wrote a paper entitled The Influence of the Mystery Religions on Christianity.  The following is an excerpt from that paper:

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 ... After recovering Osiris' dismembered body, Isis restored him to life and installed him as King in the nether world ...

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 calendar used by him, corresponded to November 13th. Other Egyptian records speak of another feast in honor of all the dead ... which was held about November 8th.

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 occasion. 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. This still stands as a festival in the Christian calendar; and thus Christians unconsciously perpetuate the worship of Osiris in modern times.

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. In fact archaeologists are often left in confusion in attempting to distinguish the one from the other.

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. The spreading of this story has been attributed to Melito, Bishop of Sardis. In the sixth century a festival came to be celebrated around this event known as the festival of Assumption, and it is now one of the greatest feasts of Roman Catholicism. 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.

 

The Original Resurrected Savior God Archetype

Several major religions of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East centered around a miraculously conceived savior god who died and was resurrected (usually 3 days after death).  Most of these religions were many centuries older than the Christian Church. However, the oldest myth of a savior god who dies and is resurrected, of which I am aware, is from Egypt -- the story of Isis and Osiris.  This ancient Egyptian mystery of Isis and Osiris dates back at least to the Sixth Dynasty of the Egyptian Old Kingdom (ca. 2350 B.C.) and, by the time of Jesus (1st century A.D.), the religion had many practitioners throughout the entire Eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine.

In this myth, the good King of Egypt, Osiris (husband of Isis), is murdered by his evil brother Seth. Ultimately, Osiris's  body is dismembered into 14 parts and scattered throughout the Nomes of Egypt. After many adventures, Isis finally collects the body parts of Osiris and through the use of magic, she restore Osiris to life.  After his resurrection, Osiris goes to the land of the dead where he becomes the judge of dead souls.

Isis magically conceives a child with the resurrected "holy ghost" of Osiris. Thus, the "virgin" but "widowed" Isis conceives and bares a son named Horus. The Egyptians traditionally celebrated the birth of Horus at the time of the Winter Solstice.  When Horus was still a boy, Seth sent seven scorpions to sting him to death.  Horus was stung and near death. But his mother, Isis, using magic, is able to cure him.  When he grows up, Horus does battle with his father's murderer, the evil Seth.  Horus eventually defeats Seth and becomes the King and Savior of the Egyptian people.

Among the titles of Horus was the "Son of God" and "Son of the Widow". Hence the widowed, virgin mother has an immaculate conception that results in the incarnation of her "Savior" son. Does all of this sound familiar? It is not absolutely identical to the story of Jesus  as told by the New Testament, but is close enough to be highly significant.  Did the writers of the New Testament Gospels use elements of this very well known Egyptian story to embellish the story of Jesus?

 

Son of the Widow

The phrase "Son of the Widow" occurs as a significant title in many ancient religions and belief systems.  Several examples of such occurrences are shown below:

Egyptian Mystery Religion:  As noted above under the Savior Gods section, the god Horus, was the son of the murdered god Osiris and his widow, Isis.  Accordingly, Horus was frequently referred to by his worshippers as the "Son of the Widow."

Christianity:  Although not his most important title, Jesus was frequently known as the "Son of the Widow." This is because , at the time he began his ministry at 30 years of age, his father Joseph had already died; thus, his mother Mary was a widow and Jesus was the "Son of the Widow."

Freemasonry:  It is interesting to note that all Freemasons are called "Sons of the Widow". This title comes from the Masonic fable concerning Hiram Abiff, the Grand Master Mason and architect of Solomon’s Temple, who was murdered by three of his workmen.  Hiram Abiff, a man who designed and built in stone, was the Son of a Widow of the Tribe of Naphtali. Thus Hiram of the Freemasons, Horus of the Egyptians and Jesus of the Christians all bear a subtle connection in that all are "Sons of the Widow!"

Manichaeism:  The founder of this religious belief system was a man name Mani who lived during the 3rd century A. D.  This dualistic religion has a legend concerning its founder.  It seems there was a rich Persian merchant who was exceedingly learned. He was the Author of four works: (1) The Mysteries, (2) The Letters, (3) The Gospel, and (4) The Thesaurus. When the merchant died he left the writings to his widow. She purchased and later freed a slave named Mani; she subsequently adopted Mani and henceforth he was called the "Son of the Widow." Later, Mani's followers called themselves "Sons of the Widow." Manes designated himself as a "Paraclete" or "Holy Spirit," i.e., another incarnation of the Holy Spirit of the Christians. 

 

"XP" Symbolism

The well-known Christian "XP" Monogram is commonly believed to have originated as an abbreviation of Christ's name formed by combining the first two letters of the Greek word Χριστός (in Latin = Christos). In the Greek language Χριστός means "the Anointed One." Thus, the name Jesus Christ means "Jesus the Anointed One."  Incidentally, the Emperor Constantine the Great placed this XP monogram on his military standards in the early 4th century.

Unfortunately, this appears to be just another example where the Christians appropriated (stole?) an important symbol from another religion and used it for themselves.

The ancient Egyptian mystery religion of Isis and Osiris was prevalent throughout the entire Eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine, at the time of Christ.  In this myth, Osiris, husband of Isis, is murdered by Seth and his body dismembered. After many adventures, Isis finally collects the body parts of Osiris and through the use of magic, she restore Osiris to life.  Isis magically conceives a child with the resurrected "holy ghost" of Osiris. Thus, the "virgin" but "widowed" Isis conceives and bares a son named Horus. When he grows up, Horus does battle with his father's murderer, the evil Seth; Horus finally defeats him and becomes the Savior of the Egyptian people.

We commonly call the son of the widowed Isis, Horus, because that is the name the Greeks gave him. In the Egyptian language, his name is "Khoor" spelled with two hieroglyphics that correspond exactly to the two Greek letters Chi = X and Rho = P. Thus, a common symbol for Horus in Egypt and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly among the Greek population, was "XP"  (Chi + Rho).  The use of the XP symbol for Horus was in use many centuries before the time of Jesus.

Accordingly. I must conclude that the early Christians took the Egyptian XP symbol to represent their own version of the Savior god, Jesus, known as the Christ (in Greek = Anointed One).

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This project is being accomplished mainly as an intellectual exercise for my own personal amazement and amusement.  Even so, the results of this study are being made available to anyone who may have similar interests via this website.

This site includes my interpretations of some of the ideas promulgated by various ancient Platonists and modern Christian theologians .  These interpretations should not be considered as a complete summary of all their ideas.  The interpretations are entirely my own and I am solely responsible for any errors, whether objective or subjective, that may be found.

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