from TruthBeKnown Website
Mithra with Sun and Moon
Because of its evident relationship to christianity, special attention needs to be paid to the Persian/Roman religion of Mithraism.
The worship of the Indo-Persian god Mithra dates back centuries to millennia preceding the common era. The god is found as "Mitra" in the Indian Vedic religion, which is over 3,500 years old, by conservative estimates.
When the Iranians separated from their Indian brethren, Mitra became known as "Mithra" or "Mihr," as he is also called in Persian.
Hittite and Mitanni kingdoms
around 1400 BCE
By around 1500 BCE, Mithra worship had made it to the Near East, in the Indian kingdom of the Mitanni, who at that time occupied Assyria.
Mithra worship, however, was known also by that time as far west as the Hittite kingdom, only a few hundred miles east of the Mediterranean, as is evidenced by the Hittite-Mitanni tablets found at Bogaz-Köy in what is now Turkey.
The gods of the Mitanni included Mitra, Varuna and
Indra, all found in the Vedic texts.
Mithra as Sun God
So too was the Persian derivative Mithra, who was a "benevolent god" and the bestower of health, wealth and food. Mithra also seems to have been looked upon as a sort of Prometheus, for the gift of fire. (Schironi, 104) His worship purified and freed the devotee from sin and disease.
Eventually, Mithra became more militant, and he is best known as a warrior.
Mithra wearing a crown of sun rays
Taqwasân or Taq-e Bostan or Taq-i-Bustan, Sassanid Empire
Coronation of Ardeshir II, c. 4th cent. AD/CE
(Photo: Phillipe Chavin)
Like so many gods, Mithra was the light and power behind the sun.
In Babylon, Mithra was identified with Shamash, the sun god, and he is also Bel, the Mesopotamian and Canaanite/ Phoenician solar deity, who is likewise Marduk, the Babylonian god who represented both the planet Jupiter and the sun.
According to Pseudo-Clement of Rome's debate with Appion (Homily VI, ch. X), Mithra is also Apollo.
Included in this astrotheological development was the re-emphasis on Mithra's early Indian role as a sun god.
As Francis Legge says in Forerunners and Rivals in christianity:
By the Roman legionnaires, Mithra - or Mithras, as he began to be known in the Greco-Roman world - was called "the divine Sun, the Unconquered Sun."
He was said to be,
Mithra was also deemed "the mediator" between heaven and
earth, a role often ascribed to the god of the sun.
Regarding this title, Dr. Richard L. Gordon, honorary professor of Religionsgeschichte der Antike at the University of Erfurt, Thuringen, remarks:
As concerns Mithra's identity, Mithraic scholar Dr. Roger Beck says:
Persian sun god in quadriga sun chariot
Lundy, 177, after Lajard
Mithra in the Roman Empire
Christian writers Dr. Samuel Jackson and George W. Gilmore, editors of The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (VII, 420), remark:
According to the Roman historian Plutarch (c. 46-120 AD/CE), Mithraism began to be absorbed by the Romans during Pompey's military campaign against Cilician pirates around 70 BCE.
The religion eventually migrated from Asia Minor through the soldiers, many of whom had been citizens of the region, into Rome and the far reaches of the Empire.
Syrian merchants brought Mithraism to the major cities, such as Alexandria, Rome and Carthage, while captives carried it to the countryside.
By the third century AD/CE Mithraism and its mysteries permeated the Roman Empire and extended from India to Scotland, with abundant monuments in numerous countries amounting to over 420 Mithraic sites so far discovered.
"By the third century AD/CE Mithraism and its mysteries
permeated the Roman Empire and extended from India to Scotland."
Mithra as Sol Invictus, the inscription reading
From a number of discoveries, including pottery, inscriptions and temples, we know that Roman Mithraism gained a significant boost and much of its shape between 80 and 120 AD/CE, when the first artifacts of this particular cultus begin to be found at Rome.
It reached a peak during the second and third centuries, before largely expiring at the end of the fourth/beginning of fifth centuries. Among its members during this period were emperors, politicians and businessmen.
Indeed, before its usurpation by christianity Mithraism enjoyed the patronage of some of the most important individuals in the Roman Empire.
In the fifth century, the emperor Julian, having rejected his birth-religion of christianity, adopted Mithraism and,
Modern scholarship has gone back and forth as to how much of the original Indo-Persian Mitra-Mithra cultus affected Roman Mithraism, which demonstrates a distinct development but which nonetheless follows a pattern of this earlier solar mythos and ritual.
The theory of "continuity" from the Iranian to Roman Mithraism developed famously by scholar Dr. Franz Cumont in the 20th century has been largely rejected by many scholars.
Yet, Plutarch himself (Life of Pompey 26) related that followers of Mithras,
So too does the ancient writer Porphyry (234-c. 305 AD/CE) state that the Roman Mithraists themselves believed their religion had been founded by the Persian savior Zoroaster.
Statue of Tiridates I of Armenia; André, 1687
Parc et jardins du château de Versailles
In discussing what may have been recounted by ancient writers asserted to have written many volumes about Mithraism, such as Eubulus of Palestine and "a certain Pallas," Dr. Beck remarks:
It seems that the ancients themselves did not divorce the eastern roots of Mithraism, as exemplified also by the remarks of Dio Cassius, who related that in 66 AD/CE the king of Armenia, Tiridates, visited Rome.
states that the dignitary worshipped Mithra; yet, he does not
indicate any distinction between the Armenian's religion and Roman
Current scholarship is summarized thus by Dr. Beck (2004):
The Many Faces of Mithra
The Armenian Empire under Tigranes the Great
fl. 95 to 66 BCE
However, the Persian Mithra apparently developed differently in various places, such as in Armenia, where there appeared to be emphasis on characteristics not overtly present in Roman Mithraism but found as motifs within christianity, including the Virgin Mother Goddess.
This Armenian Mithraism is evidently a continuity of the Mithraism of Asia Minor and the Near East. This development of gods taking on different forms, shapes, colors, ethnicities and other attributes according to location, era and so on is not only quite common but also the norm.
Thus, we have hundreds of gods and goddesses who are in many ways interchangeable but who have adopted various differences based on geographical and environmental factors.
In developing this analysis, it should be kept in mind that elements from Roman, Armenian and Persian Mithraism are utilized, not as a whole ideology but as separate items that may have affected the creation of christianity, whether directly through the mechanism of Mithraism or through another Pagan source within the Roman Empire and beyond.
The evidence points to these motifs and elements being
adopted into christianity not as a whole from one source but
singularly from many sources, including Mithraism.
"The evidence points to these motifs and elements
being adopted into
Thus, the following list represents not a solidified mythos or
narrative of one particular Mithra or form of the god as developed
in different cultures and eras but, rather, a combination of them
all for ease of reference as to any possible influences upon
christianity under the name of Mitra/Mithra/Mithras.
Over the centuries, apologists contending that Mithraism copied christianity nevertheless have asserted that the December 25th birthdate was taken from Mithraism.
As Sir Arthur Weigall says:
Mithra's birthday on December 25th has been so widely claimed that the Catholic Encyclopedia ("Mithraism") remarks:
Yet this contention of Mithra's birthday on December 25th or the winter solstice is disputed because there is no hard archaeological or literary evidence of the Roman Mithras specifically being named as having been born at that time.
Says Dr. Alvar:
In analyzing the evidence, we must keep in mind all the destruction that has taken place over the past 2,000 years-including that of many Mithraic remains and texts - as well as the fact that several of these germane parallels constituted mysteries that may or may not have been recorded in the first place or the meanings of which have been obscured.
Christ as Helios or Sol Invictus in his solar chariot
3rd century AD/CE
Mausoleum, St. Peter's, Rome
The claim about the Roman Mithras's birth on "Christmas" is evidently based on the Calendar of Filocalus or Philocalian Calendar (c. 354 AD/CE), which mentions that December 25th represents the "Birthday of the Unconquered," understood to refer to the sun and taken to indicate Mithras as Sol Invictus.
Whether it represents Mithras's birthday specifically or "merely" that of Emperor Aurelian's Sol Invictus, with whom Mithras has been identified, the Calendar also lists the day - the winter solstice birth of the sun - as that of,
Moreover, it would seem that there is more to this story, as Aurelian was the first to institute officially the winter solstice as the birthday of Sol Invictus (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) in 274 AD/CE. (Halsberghe, 158)
It is contended that Aurelian's move was in response to Mithras's popularity. (Restaud, 4)
One would thus wonder
why the emperor would be so motivated if Mithras had nothing
whatsoever to do with the sun god's traditional birthday - a
disconnect that would be unusual for any solar deity.
Hence, the placement of Mithras's birth on this feast day of the sun is understandable and, despite the lack of concrete evidence at this date, quite plausibly was recognized in this manner in antiquity in the Roman Empire.
In this regard, discussing the Iranian month of Asiyadaya, which corresponds to November/December, Mithraic scholar Dr. Mary Boyce remarks:
This ancient Persian winter festival therefore celebrates the strengthening of the "fire" or sun in the face its winter decline, just as virtually every winter-solstice festivity is intended to do.
Yet, as Dr. Boyce says, this "Zoroastrian" winter celebration is likely pre-Zoroastrian and even proto-Indo-European, which means it dates back far into the hoary mists of time, possibly tens of thousands of years ago.
And one would indeed expect the Medes and
Persians to bring this festival with them into their new lands,
including the Near East, where they would eventually encounter
Romans who could hardly have missed this common solar motif
celebrated worldwide in numerous ways.
"The Mithraists believed that this night
is the night of the birth of Mithra, Persian god of light and truth."
Yalda greetings from an Iranian site
Mithra wearing a Phrygian cap
The same may be said as concerns another Persian or Zoroastrian winter celebration called "Yalda," which is the festival of the Longest Night of the Year, taking place on December 20th or the day before the solstice:
It is likely that this festival does indeed derive from remote antiquity, and it is evident that the ancient Persians were well aware of the winter solstice and its meaning as found in numerous other cultures:
"'Christmas' is the birth not of the 'son of God'
but of the sun.
In the end the effect is the same:
Indeed, there is much evidence - including many ancient monumental alignments - to demonstrate that this highly noticeable and cherished event of the winter solstice was celebrated beginning hundreds to thousands of years before the common era in numerous parts of the world.
The observation was thus provably taken over by christianity, not as biblical doctrine but as a later tradition in order to compete with the Pagan cults, a move we contend occurred with numerous other "Christian" motifs, including many that are in the New Testament.
Regarding the birth in caves likewise common to pre-Christian gods, and present in the early legends of Jesus, Weigall relates (50):
Mithra, born from a rock
holding a dagger and a torch
As the "rock-born," Mithras was called "Theos ek Petras," or the "God from the Rock."
As Weigall also relates:
Mithra was "the rock," or Peter, and was also "double-faced," like Janus the keyholder, likewise a prototype for the "apostle" Peter.
Hence, when Jesus is made to say (in the apparent interpolation at
Matthew 16:12) that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are given to
"Peter" and that the Church is to be built upon "Peter," as a
representative of Rome, he is usurping the authority of Mithraism,
which was precisely headquartered on what became Vatican Hill.
"Mithraic remains on Vatican Hill are found
underneath the later Christian edifices,
which proves the Mithra cult was there first."
By the time the Christian hierarchy prevailed in Rome, Mithra had already been a popular cult, with pope, bishops, etc., and its doctrines were well established and widespread, reflecting antiquity.
Mithraic remains on Vatican Hill are found underneath the later Christian edifices, which proves the Mithra cult was there first.
In fact, while Mithraic ruins are abundant throughout the Roman Empire, beginning in the late first century AD/CE,
However, a number of writers over the centuries have asserted
otherwise, including several modern Persian and Armenian scholars
who are apparently reflecting an ancient tradition from Near Eastern
"The worship of Mithra and Anahita, the virgin mother of Mithra,
well-known in the Achaemenian period."
Sassanid king Khosrow flanked by Anahita and Ahura Mazda
7th cent. AD/CE; Taq-e Bostan, Iran
For example, Dr. Badi Badiozamani says that a "person" named "Mehr" or Mithra was,
Philosophy professor Mohammed Ali Amir-Moezzi states:
Comparing the rock birth with that of the virgin mother, Dr. Amir-Moezzi also says:
In Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, Dr. Leroy A. Campbell calls Anahita the "great goddess of virgin purity," and Religious History professor Dr. Claas J. Bleeker says,
One modern writer ("Mithraism and christianity") portrays the Mithra myth thus:
Artemis the Huntress holding two animals (lions?)
Francois Vase, 6th century BCE; Louvre
Anahita, also known as "Anaitis" - whose very name means "Pure" and "Untainted" and who was equated in antiquity with the virgin goddess Artemis - is certainly an Indo-Iranian goddess of some antiquity, dating back at least to the first half of the first millennium prior to the common era and enjoying "widespread popularity" around Asia Minor.
Indeed, Anahita has been called,
Moreover, concerning Mithra Schaff-Herzog says,
Ostensibly, this "triad" was the same as God the Father, the Virgin and Jesus, which would tend to confirm the assertion that Anahita was Mithra's virgin mother.
That Anahita was closely associated with
Mithra at least five centuries before the common era is evident from
the equation made by Herodotus (1.131) in naming "Mitra" as the
Persian counterpart of the Near and Middle Eastern goddesses Alilat
and Mylitta. (de Jong, 269-270)
Hence, we would expect an earlier form of Mithra also to
possess this virgin-mother motif, which seems to have been lost or
deliberately severed in the all-male Roman Mithraism.
Mithra and the Twelve
Mithra surrounded by the Twelve anthropomorphized signs of the Zodiac
Mithraeum of San Clemente
3rd century AD/CE
The theme of the teaching god and "the Twelve" is found within Mithraism, as Mithra is depicted as surrounded by the 12 zodiac signs on a number of monuments and in the writings of Porphyry (4.16), for one.
signs are sometimes portrayed as humans and, as they have been in
the case of numerous sun gods, could be called Mithra's 12
"companions" or "disciples."
The comparison of this common motif with Jesus and the 12 has been made on many occasions, including in an extensive study entitled, "Mithras and Christ: some iconographical similarities," by Professor A. Deman in Mithraic Studies.
These fathers included,
...all of whom attributed these striking correspondences to the prescient devil.
In other words, anticipating Christ, the devil
set about to fool the Pagans by imitating the coming messiah. In
reality, the testimony of these Church fathers confirms that these
various motifs, characteristics, traditions and myths predated
"Christianity took a leaf out of the devil's book
when it fixed the
birth of the Savior on the twenty-fifth of December."
Concerning this "devil did it" argument, in The Worship of Nature Sir James G. Frazer remarks:
Regarding the various similarities between Mithra and Christ, as well as the defenses of the Church fathers, the author of The Existence of Christ Disproved remarks:
"It is good practice to steer clear of all information provided by Christian writers:
they are not 'sources,' they are violent
In response to a question about Tertullian's discussion of the purported Mithraic forehead mark, Dr. Gordon - honorary professor of Religionsgeschichte der Antike at the University of Erfurt, Thuringen - says:
He also cautions about speculation concerning Mithraism and states that "there is practically no limit to the fantasies of scholars," an interesting admission about the hallowed halls of academia.
The fact is that there is no Christian archaeological evidence earlier than the earliest Roman Mithraic archaeological evidence and that the preponderance of evidence points to christianity being formulated during the second century, not based on a "historical" personage of the early first century.
As one important example, the canonical gospels as we have
them do not show up clearly in the literary record until the end of
the second century.
In reality, much evidence of Mithra worship has been destroyed, including not only monuments, iconography and other artifacts, but also numerous books by ancient authors.
The existence of written evidence is indicated by the Egyptian cloth "manuscript" from the first century BCE called, "Mummy Funerary Inscription of the Priest of Mithras, Ornouphios, Son fo Artemis" or MS 247.
Egyptian Mithra inscription on cloth
1st century BCE
As previously noted, two of the ancient writers on Mithraism are Pallas, and Eubulus, the latter of whom, according to Jerome (Against Jovinianus, 2.14; Schaff 397),
Discussing Eubulus and Pallas, Porphyry too related that there were,
The writings of the early Church
fathers themselves provide much evidence as to what Mithraism was
all about, as do the archaeological artifacts stretching from India
In fact, Mithraism was so similar to
that it gave fits to the early Church fathers, as it does to this
day to apologists, who attempt both to deny the similarities and yet
to claim that these (non-existent) correspondences were plagiarized
by Mithraism from christianity.
"Regardless of attempts to make Mithraism the plagiarist of christianity,
the fact will remain that Mithraism was first."
Nevertheless, the god Mithra was revered for centuries prior to the christian era, and the germane elements of Mithraism are known to have preceded christianity by hundreds to thousands of years.
Thus, regardless of attempts to make Mithraism the plagiarist of christianity, the fact will remain that Mithraism was first, well established decades before christianity had any significant influence.