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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 10. Further Christian Parallels.

Still further does the parallel hold. It is well known that whereas in the gospels Jesus is said to have been born in an inn

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stable, early Christian writers, as Justin Martyr 1 and Origen, 2 explicitly say he was born in a cave. Now, in the Mithra myth, Mithra is both rock-born and born in a cave; and the monuments show the new-born babe adored by shepherds who offer first-fruits. 3 And it is remarkable that whereas a cave long was (and I believe is) shown as the birthplace of Jesus at Bethlehem, Saint Jerome actually complained 4 that in his day the Pagans celebrated the worship of Tammuz (= Adonis), and presumably, therefore, the festival of the birth of the sun, Christmas Day, at that very cave.

Given these identities, it was inevitable that, whether or not Mithra was originally, or in the older Mazdean creed, regarded as born of a Virgin, he should in his western cultus come to be so regarded. 5 As we saw, there was a primary tendency, Aryan as well as Semitic, to make the young God the son of the Supreme God, like Dionysos, like Apollo, like Herakles; and when Mithra became specially identified, like Dionysos, with the Phrygian God Sabazios, 6 who was the "child as it were of the [great] Mother," 7 he necessarily came to hold the same relation to the Mother-Goddess. 8 But in all likelihood there were ancient Persian forms of the conception to start from. It seems highly probable that the birth-legend of the Persian Cyrus 9 was akin to or connected with the myth of Mithra, 10 Cyrus (Koresh) being a name of the sun, 11 and the legend being obviously solar. Thus it would tend to be told of Mithra that he was born under difficulties, like the other Sun-Gods; 12 and his being cave-born would make it the more easy.

It was further practically a matter of course that his mother should be styled Virgin, the precedents being uniform. 13 In Phrygia the God Acdestis or Agdistis, a variant of Attis, associated with Attis and Mithra in the worship of the Great Mother, is rock-born; 14 like

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[paragraph continues] Mithra he is twy-sexed, figuring in some versions as a female; and the coarse Greek story of the manner of his birth is evidently a myth framed to account for an epithet. Further, the Goddess Anahita or Anaitis, with whom Mithra was anciently paired, was preeminently a Goddess of fruitfulness and nutriency, 1 and as such would necessarily figure in her cultus as a Mother; and as Mithra never appears (save in worshipful metaphor) as a father, he would perforce rank as her son. Precisely so does Attis in the Orphic theosophy figure as the son of Athênê, the Virgin Goddess, 2 who in turn is possibly a variant of Anaitis and Tanith 3 Finally, as the preeminent spirit Sraosha (= Vohumano) was connected with Mithra, 4 so would there be a blending or assimilation of Mithra with Saoshyas or Saoshyant, the Saviour and Raiser of the Dead, who in the Parsee mythology is to be virgin-born, his mother miraculously conceiving him from the seed of Zarathustra. 5

As a result of all these myth-motives, we find Mithra figuring in the Christian empire in the fourth and fifth centuries, alongside of the Christ, as supernaturally born of a Virgin-Mother—a mortal maiden or a, Mother-Goddess—and of the Most High God; 6 and if the Christians made much of some occult thesis that Mithra was his own father, or otherwise the spouse of his mother, they were but keeping record of the fact that in this as in so many ancient cults, and more obscurely in their own, the God had been variously conceived as the Son and as the lover of the Mother-Goddess. 7 In all probability they took from, or adopted in emulation of, Mithraism the immemorial ritual of the birth of the Child-God; for in the Mithraic monuments we have the figure of the tree overshadowing the new-born child 8 even as it does in the early Christian sculptures. 9

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So long as Mithraism was allowed to subsist, the competition continued. Even as Jesus in the historic creed makes the Descent to Hades, like so many elder Gods, so in the ancient Persian system Mithra was slain and passed to the under-world, this at the time of the autumnal equinox, when the sun enters Libra, the current month bearing Mithra's name (Mihr). The evidence for the myth is peculiarly interesting, inasmuch as it is embodied in a tradition and a custom which have locally survived even the knowledge that there ever was such a deity. It is a Christian archæologist who writes that "Mihrgàn (or Mihrjàn) is the name of the sixteenth day of any month, and is the name of the seventh month of the solar year; and during its continuance the sun which enlightens the world is in the sign of Libra, which is the beginning of the autumnal season, and with the Persians ranks next in honour to the feast and holiday of the Nùrùz." 1 Here, too, 2 the public day is at the beginning and the courtiers’ day at the end of a festival week. In the late legend, Mithra being lost sight of, the autumnal festival was explained by a story that "the Persians had a king of the name of Mihr, who was a very great tyrant, and that in the middle of the month he arrived at the regions of torment, for which reason they gave the name of Mihrgàn, which signifies the death of a tyrannical king; for Mihr has been allowed to mean to die, and Gàn, a tyrannical king." 3 The etymology is of course nonsense, Mihr being simply, as we have seen, the true Persian form of the God-name Mithra, after whom was named the seventh month of the solar year. And the clear inference is that in the old myth the God went to the underworld at the proper solar date, the autumnal equinox, perhaps to "rise again," fittingly, at the vernal equinox.

Here we should have the proper pair of solar dates, which in the Christian cult are combined by making the God die and rise again at the spring equinox in the manner of Attis and Adonis and the other Gods of Vegetation; though on the other hand Jesus is tempted as the Sun-God by the Goat-God at the beginning of his career (Sun in Capricorn), and rides on two asses like Dionysos at the beginning of his decline (Sun in Cancer). 4 In the Roman Calendar we find still

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further traces of the old doubling in the setting of the Festival of the Transfiguration and the Festum Nominis Jesu on August 6th and 7th, and of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th; while the day of the Exaltatio Sacræ Crucis is September 14th, and that of St. Michael, the conqueror of the dragon of Hades, is September 29th. When we remember that the myth of the descent of Apollo to Hades was in time completely lost sight of by the Greeks, to the extent even of their forgetting that Admetus had been a name of Hades, 1 we can readily understand the similar process in the case of Mithra. 2


321:1 Dialogue with Trypho, c. 78.

321:2 Against Celsus, i, 51. Compare the Apocryphal gospels; Protev. xii, 14; Infancy, i, 6; xii, 14. Note, too, that Dionysos, like Zeus and Hermes, was said to have been nurtured in a cave (Pausanias, iii, 24; Diodorus Siculus, iii, 67).

321:3 Cumont, i, 162. The birth takes place beside a river or fountain.

321:4 Epist. 58, ad Paulinum (Migne, Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, ser. i, vol. xxii, col. 581).

321:5 Above, p. 95.

321:6 Preller, Römische Mythologie, 1865, p. 761; Cumont, i, 235, 314; Creuzer, Das Mithrēum von Neuenheim, pp. 35-6; Gruter, p. 74; Garucci, Mystères, pp. 14, 18.

321:7 Strabo, x, 3, § 15.

321:8 There were yet other affiliations. Eunapius (cited in edit. note on Hammer-Purgstall, Mithriaca, p. 22) represents the same priest as hierophant of the Eleusinia and father of the initiation of Mithra; and this gives plausibility to the view (rejected, however, by M. Cumont) that the presence of "the priest Mithras" in Apuleius’ account of the mysteries of Isis (Metamorphoses, B. xi) implies a similar joining of the Mithraic and Isiac cults.

321:9 Herodotus, i, 107, sq.

321:10 In Ezra, i, 8, the treasurer of Cyrus is named Mithredath = Mithradates.

321:11 Plutarch, Artaxerxes, i.

321:12 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 184-5.

321:13 See the same work, pp. 168, 296, as to the bestowal of the title of "Virgin" on all the Mother-Goddesses; and cp. Tiele, Hist. of the Egypt. Rel. p. 193, as to the duality of the Asiatic Goddesses, who were on the one side virgins and on the other mothers.

321:14 Arnobius, Adv. Gentes, v. 5, 10; cp. Pausanias, vii, 17.

322:1 Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, i, 542.

322:2 Orphica, Ad Musæum, 42.

322:3 Tiele, Egyptian Religion, p. 135. But see above, p. 217, note.

322:4 Tiele, Outlines, p. 172. Above, p. 296, note.

322:5 Tiele, p. 177: Cumont, 161, 188, 314: Haug, Essays, p. 314; above, p. 206; Darmesteter, note on Yasht xiii, 62 (Farvardîn Yasht).

322:6 Cumont, ii, 234-5. See the passage in Elisæus, the Armenian historian (5th c.), History of Vartan, tr. by C. F. Neumann, 1830. pp. 16, 17 (cited by Windischmann, pp. 61, 62, and by Cumont, ii, 5, from Langlois’ trad. of the History of Vartan, ii, 193). That "the God Mihrvard was born of a woman" was asserted by the Christian bishops in reply to Zoroastrian priests; and again, "One of your wisest men said that the God Mihr was born of a mortal mother." They do not say she was married. Others fabled that Mithra was born "of the incestuous intercourse of Ahura Mazda with his own mother" (Cumont, as cited; also i, 161). Whatever were the earlier myths, Mithra in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries "was held [in Armenia] to be one and the same person with Christ, and whatever the evangelists relate of Christ was transferred to him" (Note by Neumann, as cited. p. 89),

322:7 See Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 299-300, as to the cults of Adonis, Attis, Osiris, and Horos, and the problem of the two mourning Maries in the gospel myth; and compare J. G. Müller, Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen, p. 608, as to the same principle in the myth of Tezcatlipoca, son of the Virgin Goddess Coatlicue.

322:8 See Cumont, i, 162-3.

322:9 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 188, 201-2, as to the presence of this myth-motive in other cults. The reason for surmising that Mithraism was the point of contact for the Christists is the Persian aspect of the figures and names of the Magi. Even the p. 323 "stable" myth has a curious connection with Mithraism. See the Greek formula in Firmicus (c. v (iv)—passage corrupt): "The sacred heifers have lowed, hold we the solemn feast of the most august Father." M. Darmesteter has argued (Ormazd et Ahriman, p. 152, n.) that "the legends of Gods born or reared in stables; among shepherds (Krishna); even that of Mithra as πετρογενής, in virtue of the synonymy of stone, mountain, stable—adri-gotra"—all derive from the widespread bull or cow myth. But for an interesting astronomical signification of the stable (= the Augean) see Dupuis, Origine de tous les Cultes, ed. 1835-6, vii, 104.

323:1 Antiquities, p. 193, citing the Berhan-ĭ-Katteā.

323:2 See above, p. 319, note.

323:3 Wait, as cited. Cp. Creuzer-Guigniaut, as cited, i, 313, note.

323:4 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 319, 324, 339.

324:1 K. O. Müller, Introd. to Mythology, Eng. tr. pp. 244-6.

324:2 In a late legend Zarathustra likewise descends into hell (Malcolm, History of Persia, ed. 1829, i, 495); and as Zarathustra like Mithra is born beside a river (Bundahish, xxiv, 15), and like the Sun-Gods in general is sought to be slain in infancy (West, Pahlavi Texts, i, 187, 317: S. B. E. v), the two legends may be regarded as interfluent.

Next: § 11. The Vogue of Mithraism