Thursday, 18 October 2012

Mithraism

There are transitional stages between polytheism and monotheism. Was Moses what we call a monotheist or just a "tribal monotheist"? "Only one god for our tribal confederation" need not entail "Only one god exists."

Poul Anderson's The Golden Slave (New York, 1980) shows that Mithraism was transitional:

" 'No lesser god enters the Presence of Mithras...'" (p. 200)

"...it was forbidden to call on him unless one had been initiated into his mysteries." (p. 214)

In Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys tetralogy, Gratillonius, a Mithraist, becomes King of Ys even though this makes him an incarnation of one of the Ysan gods - but his Mithraism also brings him into conflict with them.

Could Mithraism have become the Roman and European religion instead of Christianity? Only by changing and becoming more like Christianity. It would have had to:

become fully monotheist;
historicise the Mithraic myth;
initiate women;
replace sacrificial animals with a more convenient symbol like bread and wine;
maybe claim that its victim, slaughtered once, was perfect and sufficed for all time, thus the god himself rather than a bull - not Jesus the Lamb but Mithras the Bull?

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    Interesting comments you made, esp. the "historicise" part. I was reminded of how I think it was Daniel-Rops in his book JESUS AND HIS TIMES who said that one crucial difference between Christianity and the pagan/"transitional" religons it displaced was the former being HISTORICAL. That is, Our Lord was real, actual, personally known and met by actual men and women. And reported on by others who were also real and historical (Such as Flavius Josephus and Tacitus). That could never have been said convincingly of the Olympian gods or Mithras.

    Your comments about Mithraism reminded me of how it was affected by Zoroastrianism. I think the latter faith was what pushed Mithraism to beome "transitionally" monotheistic? You might want to check out Chesterton's discussion of Zoroastrianism and paganism in his book THE EVER LASTING MAN.

    Do you plan to comment on THE KING OF YS next? That has elements of both a fantasy and a historical novel.

    Sean

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  2. I argue in my article, "Evidence for the Resurrection", that people in the Roman Empire needed, as they saw it, a new revelation to replace the old myths that it seemed were being superseded by the new world order. Hence the appeal of a dying and rising god whose Resurrection was not annual/cyclical but recent/historical, "under Pontius Pilate."

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  3. I reread YS relatively recently although before starting this blog. There are some comments on it in the early part of the blog that was copied from the site.

    Next, I was thinking of THE DEMON OF SCATTERY, then back to sf but that could change.

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    1. Hi, Paul!

      Yes, I agree, the fact Our Lord was and is a real Person who was actually seen and recorded as being seen was one reason Christianity eventually displaced paganism.

      And, of course, THE KING OF YS is a massive four volume novel. You feel the need to read and comment on some of Anderson's shorter works first.

      I've read THE KING OF YS three times but THE DEMON OF SCATTERY (co authored by Anderson and Broxon) only once. Does your edition of YS includes the notes and annotations the Andersons added?

      Sean

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