We have arrived at a rather pivotal moment in our story, so before we move on I want to preface this chapter with some comments.
If you are feeling relatively at ease with what you have read so far, then these remarks are probably not for you. If, on the other hand you are thinking, ‘If he is going to start telling us that Jesus may be just as important to us as a metaphor or parable as he is as a real flesh and blood man/god, I’m off,’ then these remarks are addressed directly to you.
I’m going to make a statement which you may find unbelievable. All I ask is that you do not let your mind drop like a security grill on it, shutting off all further thought. Rather, out of respect for truth, keep your mind open to the possibility that the unthinkable might be thinkable but it is not the main issue. It is a distraction.
Here is the statement.
It doesn’t matter whether you regard Jesus is a real flesh and blood person who walked the highways and byways of Palestine or a metaphor or parable whose meaning we are required to study and unravel. What matters is his teaching. Focus on the teaching and leave the issue of his identity aside for the moment. There will be time for that later
Reflect, if you will, on the fact that those 63 words would have had me burned at the stake five hundred years ago.
Son of God
Imagine that you are alive in the first decades of the Christian era, even though that the word ‘Christian’ had not yet been invented. If you imagine yourself as a convert to this new religion you are having to answer your pagan friends who cannot understand why you choose to follow a religion which is, in their minds, little more than a a very imperfect copy of their centuries old religion which encompasses nearly the entire Mediterranean area. What’s the point, they ask?
If, on the other hand, you put yourself in the shoes of a pagan you can feel their bewilderment. You, as a pagan could well point out that pagans have respected each other’s religion on the whole. Now this new religion is claiming that it is the one, true religion. Isn’t that going to lead to intolerance, you might reasonably ask?
Early Christians were painfully aware how weak their case was in the face of centuries of pagan religious history which read just like a biography of Jesus.
Justin Martyr 100 – 165 AD and Tertullian 166 – 220 AD claimed that it was the devil who deliberately prefigured Jesus in order to spread confusion, not an argument on which an intelligent person needs to waste any time.
The title Son of God attributed to Jesus was attributed to Dionysus by Euripides 484-406 BC. The virgin birth was recorded of several of the pagan god/men as taking place on December 25th.
St Epiphanius 315 – 403 tells us that in Alexandria the birth of the God/man Aeon was celebrated on January
6th, as was the birth of Jesus in that country.
The Christian and pagan rites of baptism were almost indistinguishable one from another. St Paul tells us that there are three symbols in baptism: entering the water/ symbolising death, immersion symbolising burial, and emergence symbolising resurrection (Romans 6 v 1-8)
We have already seen that the miracle of turning water into wine was attributed to Dionysus and Jesus. The god/man Aesculapius was credited with curing the sick and raising the dead like Jesus. Pythagoras is credited with calming stormy waters and foretelling a miraculous catch of fish as did Jesus.
Whether it was exorcising evil spirits, feeding thousands or speaking with tongues, all had been reported as having been performed by god/men centuries before. Christian apologist said they had been performed by the devil.
The Twelve Apostles
Christians are familiar with the twelve Apostles, often seen as representing the twelve tribes of Israel. But the twelve tribes of Israel derived from the twelve signs of the zodiac which had immense religious significance in the ancient world.
The God/men Dionysus, Mithras, Aeon and Helios are represented as the still spiritual centre of the turning wheel of change represented by the twelve signs of the zodiac. The symbol of one surrounded by twelve derives from sacred Babylonian geometry.
Jesus is accused of licentious behaviour because he ate and drank. John the Baptist lived an ascetic life, neither eating nor drinking, and the Jews accused him of being possessed. Luke 7 v 31 -35.
Centuries before Dionysus faced exactly the same accusation for the same reason. Yet both the Mystery religions and early Christianity in its monastic tradition had a well developed ascetic side.
Riding on a Donkey
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a Donkey which he took pains to instruct his disciples to obtain for him. He was preceded by joyful crowds waving palm branches. Mark 11 v 2 and Matthew 21 v 2
Five centuries before, Euripides represented Dionysus riding in triumph to his death on a donkey. Why a donkey? Because to the followers of Mystery religions the donkey represented all that was base and evil in human nature which the initiate had to overcome completely like the god/man he worshipped.
The Just Man and the Tyrant
As Jesus is led away he warns the people not to weep for him but for themselves and for their children, Likewise Dionysus warns the people: “Dionysus who you say is dead will come in swift pursuit to avenge this sacrilege”
Many just men suffered an unjust death at the hands of tyrants. One such was the philosopher and an initiate of the Mysteries, Socrates. He could have saved his life by offering to pay a fine of 30 pieces of silver. He offered one Mina instead and accepted his death regarding the alternative as a betrayal of his principles.
In his behaviour before Pilate, Jesus fulfils everything which would have been expected, for the previous five hundred years of a just man unjustly accused.
So common was this pattern of behaviour among pagan initiates of the Mysteries that the pagan Celsius was able to ridicule Christians for suggesting that Jesus was in any way exceptional.
Now read pp 33 – 59 of The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy