Humility and Poverty
Jesus taught his followers to practice humility and poverty. When he sent out the Apostles to announce the arrival of the kingdom, he ordered them not to take a bag with their belongings nor a second set of clothes.
In so doing the Christian preachers would be indistinguishable from pagan preachers doing exactly the same thing, travelling light and preaching a call to right living and turning away from worldly appetites.
They were followers of the Greek philosopher Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates in the 4th century BC who taught that only virtue gives nobility, that virtue can be taught and is achieved by a life of asceticism and a refusal to conform to conventions.
In teaching after teaching the words of Jesus have parallels, even sometimes the same words, as those on the lips of pagan teachers centuries earlier.
Heaven and Hell
The notion of life after death did not originate with Christianity nor with the Old Testament as I was taught in the seminary. It originated in Egypt where it had enjoyed more than 1,000 years of acceptance and was introduced to Greek philosophers, by the Mystery religions.
Initially it was regarded as a new and shocking teaching but it gained acceptance. Plutarch (46 – 127 AD, a pagan priest at Delphi, wrote to his wife on the death of their daughter, reminding her that they both knew that the soul is indestructible having learned that from the teachings of Dionysus.
St Augustine accused the Mysteries of promising eternal life to everybody. In fact both the Mysteries and Christianity promised life after death only to those who lived a good life.
The Mysteries were also the originators of the Christian teaching about Purgatory. In the bible the Old Testament, in the book of Esdras, drew its teaching about life after death from the Mystery religions. While some Christians seem to have delighted in horrific descriptions of the tortures awaiting the dammed in the lake of boiling mud, the more enlightened pagan philosophers regarded life as cyclical and hell as a process of purification.
This then lead to a return to life with another chance to attain heaven by means of a pure life lived according to the ethical principles taught in the Mystery religions.
The church father, Origen (184 – 253 AD) was sympathetic to these views for which after his death he was anathematised by a church council which alleged that he taught that eventually all souls would be saved.
Even the Christian teaching about the last judgement, the resurrection of the dead and the destruction of the world by fire is paralleled by the teaching of the Mysteries of Mithras (1st to 4th century AD) which were very similar to the teaching of the Christian church.
The New Age
In the ancient world there was a widely held belief, based on the study of astronomy, that every two thousand years the world entered a new age. When Jesus was born the world was coming to the end of the age of Aries symbolised by the ram and entering the new age of Pisces symbolised by the fish.
Christians, regarding their religion as new, adopted the fish as a symbol for Jesus and so for Christianity. But for centuries the fish had been the name of the pagan god/man Adonis (6th century BC) in Syria. Jesus told the Apostles they would become fishers of men. Christians were little fishes.
The opposite sign of the zodiac to Pisces is Virgo. Virgil (70 – 19 BC) claiming the authority of the pagan priestess Sybil, quoted her as prophesying that the god/man of the new age would be born of a virgin. But the god/man referred to was a pagan god/man in the tradition of Osiris and Dionysus.
The ancient world believed that each great age began and ended with catastrophic events, a cleansing flood or a purging fire. Once again we are confronted by the religious world in which Christianity was appearing claiming to be unique, original, the only true religion. What would you think as a devout pagan?
We think of pagans as worshiping many gods and Christians as worshiping the one, only true god. But this clear cut, black and white division dissolves into nothing on closer examination.
Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus pagan philosophers were teaching that god could only be singular and calling the notion of many gods ‘absurd’. In fact the oneness of god was already ancient teaching when those fifth century philosophers were writing.
In ancient Egypt worshiping your local god as one of the forces of nature was not construed as contradicting the oneness of god. They were seen as different manifestations of the one god which made religious intolerance less of a problem among the Mystery religions.
By claiming that their god was the one, only true god and all others were false gods, Christians set themselves apart from the religious world around them with predictable incredulity and even hostility from their pagan neighbours.
Pagan philosophers found the Christian god utterly repugnant and primitive as he was portrayed speaking walking, being angry, vengeful, jealous, tired, and hungry, an insult to the otherness and ineffability of the true god.
To a pagan the Trinity looks like polytheism because all three persons are god: God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit. No say the Christians, three persons manifesting one god. That is exactly what the pagan man/gods do; they all manifest the one true god.
When one considers that the trinity was not found in Judaism but was prefigured in the teachings of Pythagoras 581 – 497 BC it becomes even clearer that the hard and fast dichotomy between polytheism and monotheism is so weak in reality as to hardly exist at all.
Now read pp 85 – 101 of
The Jesus Mysteries by
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy