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The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at

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The next great series of monuments to be considered are those emanating from the worship of Serapis, that mysterious deity, who, under his varying forms, had, during the second and third centuries of our era, completely usurped the sovereignty of his brother Jupiter, and reduced him to the rank of a mere planetary Genius. Unlike the generality of the deities who figure upon the Gnostic stones, the Alexandrian Serapis does not belong to the primitive mythology of Egypt. * His worship may be said to be only coeval with the rise of Alexandria, into which city it was introduced from Sinope by the first Ptolemy, in consequence of the command (and repeated threats, in case of neglect) of a vision which had appeared to him. After three years of ineffectual negotiation, Ptolemy at last obtained the god from Scythotherius, king of Sinope; but when the citizens still refused to part with their idol, a report was spread, that it had spontaneously found its way from the temple down to the Egyptian ships lying in the harbour.

The prevalent opinion amongst the Greeks was that the figure represented Jupiter Dis (Aidoneus) and the one by his side, Proserpine. This latter the envoys were ordered by the same divine messenger, to leave in its native shrine. Another story, also mentioned by Tacitus,  made the statue to have been brought from Seleucia by Ptolemy III, but this rested on slighter authority. It is, however, a curious confirmation of this last tradition that Serapis is named by Plutarch ("Alexander,") as the chief deity of Babylon (Seleucia in later times) at the date of the Macedonian Conquest--a proof that

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he at least regarded that god as identical with Belus. Now, it is a remarkable coincidence that Ana, the First Person in the primitive Chaldean Triad, is likewise "King of the Lower World," and that his symbol, the vertical wedge, stands also for the numeral 60, which last is often used to express hieroglyphically the name Ana.

It was Timotheus, an Athenian Eumolpid, and, in virtue of his descent, Diviner to the king, who indicated Pontus as the residence of the unknown god, whose apparition had so disquieted the monarch by commanding himself to be sent for without declaring whence. The figure, seen in the vision, was that of a youth, a circumstance that tallies ill with the mature majesty of the great god of Alexandria. * But the Helios Dionysos, a veritable Chrishna, who graces the reverse of the gold medallion of Pharnaces II, coined at Sinope in the following century, agrees much more exactly with this description of the nocturnal visitor.

Speedily did Serapis become the sole lord of his new home; and speculations as to his true nature employed the ingenuity of the philosophers at Alexandria, down to the times when they were superseded by the discussions on the doctrine of the Trinity, waged with equal zeal but infinitely worse temper. Every conflicting religion strove to claim him as the grand representative of their own doctrine. Macrobius has preserved one of the most ingenious of these interpretations, as made by the 'Rationalists,' a party so strong amongst the later Greeks (I. 20). "The City of Alexandria pays an almost frantic worship to Serapis and Isis, nevertheless they show that all this veneration is merely offered to the Sun under that name, both by their placing the corn-measure upon his head, and by accompanying his statue with the figure of an animal having three heads; of these heads, the middle and the largest one is a

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lion's, that which rises on the right is a dog's in a peaceable and fawning attitude; whilst the left part of the neck terminates in that of a ravening wolf. All these bestial forms are connected together by the wreathed body of a serpent, which raises its head up towards the god's right hand, on which side the monster is placed. The lion's head typifies the Present, because its condition between the Past and the Future is strong and fervent. The Past is signified by the wolf's head, because the memory of all things past is scratched away from us and utterly consumed. The emblem of the fawning dog represents the Future, the domain of inconstant and flattering hope. But whom should Past, Present and Future serve except their Authors? His head crowned with the calathus typifies the height of the planet above us, also his all-powerful capaciousness, since unto him all things earthly do return, being drawn up by the heat he emits. Moreover when Nicocreon, tyrant of Cyprus, consulted Serapis as to which of the gods he ought to be accounted, he received the following response:--

"'A god I am, such as I show to thee,
 The starry heavens my head; my trunk the sea;
 Earth forms my feet; mine ears the air supplies;
 The sun's far-darting, brilliant rays mine eyes.'" *

From all this it is evident that the nature of Serapis and the Sun is one and indivisible. Again, Isis is universally worshipped as the type of earth, or Nature in subjection to the Sun. For this cause the body of the goddess is covered with continuous rows of udders, to declare that the universe is maintained by the perpetual nourishing of the Earth or Nature." This last curious remark shows that Macrobius regarded the Alexandrian Isis as the same with the Ephesian Diana, for the ancient Isis of Egypt had only the usual complement of breasts. This philosopher had started with the axiom (i. 17), "Omnes deos referri ad Solem," and begins by demonstrating from the various epithets

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of Apollo, that he was the same god with the one styled the Sun. He then proceeds to prove the same of Bacchus, Hermes, Aesculapius, and Hercules. His ingenious explanation of the serpent-entwined rod of Hermes, and club of Aesculapius, will be found applied further on to the elucidation of the remarkable symbol on the reverse of all the Chnuphis amulets. After this, Macrobius passes in review the attributes and legends of Adonis and Atys, also of Osiris and Horus, and comes to the same conclusion concerning the real nature of all these personages, adding parenthetically a very fanciful exposition of the Signs of the Zodiac, as being merely so many emblems of the solar influence in the several regions of creation. Nemesis, Paris, Saturn, Jupiter, and finally the Assyrian Adad, are all reduced by him to the same signification.

This brings us to that most wondrous identification of all, which Hadrian mentions in a letter to his brother-in-law Servianus, preserved by the historian Vopiscus in his Life of the Tyrant Saturninus. "Those who worship Serapis are likewise Christians; even those who style themselves the bishops of Christ are devoted to Serapis. The very Patriarch himself, * when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to adore Serapis, by others to worship Christ. There is but one God for them all, Him do the Christians, Him do the Jews, Him do the Gentiles, all alike worship." Severus Alexander, too, who daily paid his devotions to Christ and Abraham, did none the less expend large sums in decorating the temples of Serapis and Isis "with statues, couches, and all things pertaining to their Mysteries,"  whilst he left the other gods of Rome to take care of themselves.

And as connected with the same subject, it may be here observed that the conventional portrait of the Saviour is in all probability borrowed from the head of Serapis, so full of grave and pensive majesty. Of the first converts, the Jewish foredilections were so powerful that we may be sure that no attempt was made to portray His countenance until many generations

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after all who had beheld it on earth had passed away. * Nevertheless, the importance so long attached to the pretended letter of Lentulus to the emperor, Tiberius, describing Christ's personal appearance, demands a notice in this place. Its monkish Latinity and style betray it, at first sight, for the authorship of some mediæval divine. Yet, incredible as it may seem, even a learned man like Grynæus has been so besotted through his pious longing for the reality of such a record, as to persuade himself that Lentulus, a Roman Senator and an eminent historian, could have written in the exact phrase of a mendicant friar. "There has appeared in our times, and still lives, a Man of great virtue, named Christ Jesus, who is called by the Gentiles a Prophet of Truth, but whom his own disciples called the Son of God; raising the dead, and healing diseases. A man indeed of lofty stature, handsome, having a venerable countenance, which the beholders can both love and fear. His hair verily somewhat wavy and curling, somewhat brightish and resplendent in colour, flowing down upon his shoulders, having a parting in the middle of the head after the fashion of the Nazarenes, &c." (Grynæus, 'Orthodoxia' I. p. 2.) This forgery reminds one of Pliny's remark, "Pariunt desideria non traditos vultus, sicutin Homero evenit." The wish is father to the image of the venerated object; and the conception is too joyfully accepted by the loving soul for it to trouble itself overmuch in scrutinizing the legitimacy of the same: for, as Martial exclaims with full truth "quis enim damnet sua vota libenter?"

But to return to the Egypt of the times of Gnosticism. In the very focus of that theosophy, Alexandria, the syncretistic sects which sprang up so rankly there during the three first centuries of the Roman empire, had good grounds for making out Serapis a prototype of Christ, considered as Lord and Maker of all, and Judge of the quick and the dead. For the response given to Nicocreon, above quoted, evinces that the philosophers at least saw in Serapis nothing more than the emblem of the 'Anima

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[paragraph continues] Mundi,' the Spirit of whom Nature universal is the body, for they held the doctrine of

". . . . . . . the one harmonious whole,
 Whose body Nature is, and God the soul."

So that by an easy transition Serapis came to be worshipped as the embodiment of the One Supreme, whose representative on earth was Christ.

The very construction of the grand Colossus of Serapis ingeniously set forth these ideas of his character. It was formed out of plates of all the metals, artfully joined together, to typify the harmonious union of different elements in the fabric of the universe, the "moles et machina mundi." This statue was placed upon the summit of an artificial hill (whose vast interior was divided into vaulted halls, containing the famous library), ascended by a flight of a hundred steps--a style of building totally diverse from the native Egyptian and the Grecian model, but exactly following the Indian usage, as may be seen by the grand pagoda of Siva at Tanjore, and by the topes and dagobas of the Buddhists.

The remarkable construction of this Colossus may reasonably be supposed to have suggested to the Alexandrian Jew, who completed the Book of Daniel, the notion of the similarly compacted Image which figures in Nebuchadnezzar's Dream. That his description of the latter was penned long after the coming of Serapis into that city is manifest from the minute details this prophet gives concerning the constant squabbles going on between Antiochus Epiphanes and Ptolemy Philometor, his nephew; together with the final intervention of the Roman Senate. The popular belief of the Alexandrians (Christian as well as pagan) was that the profanation of this statue would be the signal for heaven and earth to collapse at once into pristine chaos--a notion bearing clear testimony to the grand idea embodied by the figure. At last, however, although his worship, thus defended by deep-rooted fear, had been tolerated by the Christian government long after the other gods of Egypt had been swept away, this wonderful Colossus was broken down by "that perpetual enemy of peace and virtue" the

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[paragraph continues] Patriarch Theophilus, in the reign of Theodosius; and its mutilated trunk, dragged triumphantly through the streets by the mob of rejoicing fanatics, was ultimately buried in the Hippodrome.

Like that of Mithras, the worship of Serapis was widely diffused over the West. A very curious exemplification of this is to be found in Ammianus’ notice that Mederich, king of the Alemanni, had, when detained as a hostage in Gaul, been taught certain Greek Mysteries, and for that reason changed the name of his son Aganerich into Serapion. But Serapis had a natural claim to the adoration of the Gauls, who, as Cæsar tells us, actually boasted of descent from Dis Pater.

The new-corner from Sinope does not seem to have brought his name with him. When Ptolemy consulted his own priesthood upon this important point, Manetho boldly identified the Pontic god with their own Osor-Apis, chiefly on the score of his attribute Cerberus, which he considered the counterpart of the hippopotamus-headed Typhon who attends Oser-Apis in his character of sovereign of the Lower World. This deity is no other than the Bull Apis, who, after death, assumes the figure of Osiris, the regular form of Egyptian apotheosis, and so frequently seen applied to deceased kings. Osor-Apis, as he now becomes, is depicted as a man with the head of a bull, and carrying the ensigns by which we usually recognize Osiris. The god of Alexandria therefore differs in form as widely as in origin from the original patron of Thebes, with whom he has no other affinity than in name, and that rests only on the arbitrary interpretation of the Egyptian priests, so successful in persuading the Greeks that the mythology of the whole world was but a plagiarism from their own.

M. Marlette in 1860 excavated the Theban Serapeum, as it was called in Roman times, with its long avenue of sphinxes; he also discovered the catacombs where the Apis Bulls were deposited after death, and found there no fewer than sixty, two of their mummies yet reposing undisturbed. It is amusing to notice how neatly the Greeks turned the Coptic Osor-Apis into the more euphonious ὁ Σάραπις.


158:* The difference between him and the ancient Theban Serapis (as the Greeks translated his title "Osor-Api"), shall be pointed out farther on.

158:† Who narrates the whole affair at great length--a proof of the influence of the religion in his day--in his History, iv. 84.

159:* The great god of Assyria, Adad, "The One," the oracle-giving Jupiter of Heliopolis, was thus figured in his golden statue as a beardless youth, brandishing aloft a whip, and holding in his left hand the thunder-holt and wheat-ears. The rays crowning his head pointed downwards to signify their influence upon the earth, who stood before him in the figure of Atergatis, the rays in her crown pointing upwards, to express the springing up of her gifts. She was supported, like Cybele, upon the backs of lions.

160:* I cannot help suspecting that this description supplied Basilides with the idea of his celebrated Pantheus, the Abraxas-figure. The head of the bird was the fittest emblem of the air, the serpent, according to Herodotus, was the offspring of earth, the breast of man was the Homeric attribute of Neptune.

161:* The Patriarch of Tiberias, head of the Jewish religion, after the destruction of Jerusalem.

161:† A very favourite representation of Isis upon our talismans shows her reclining upon a conch.

162:* What proves the want of any real authority for the portraits of the Saviour is the filet that the earliest monuments in sculpture or painting, represent him as youthful and beardless.

Next: II. The Probable Origin of Serapis