Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Zeitgeist Lunacy On Mithra, Part 1

Turning from one wacky Jesus myther to another, I was asked to take a look at the “Zeitgeist Companion” (ZC) which was offered to supposedly validate the claims of that production. I’ll perhaps treat it in more depth in a future update of Shattering the Christ Myth, but for now, let’s sample the fare with a look at how it treats claims about one of my subjects of speciality – Mithra. We’ll cover this over several entries.
The section on Mithra begins with a summary of the pagan copycat view as  offered by a 1921 author named Edward Carpenter. Carpenter lived from 1844  to 1929 and was a poet, not a religious scholar or an authority on Mithraism.  Carpenter gives no source for his claims, except for the alleged birthdate of  Mithra, which he sources to, “F. Nork, Der Mystagog, Leipzig.” Unfortunately  that’s a 19th century book you’d be hard pressed to find today. Not that it  matters: “Freidrich Nork” was a pen name for Josef Kohn, who was a journalist  and author of pseudo-scientific works, not an authority on religion or Mithraism.   ZC may as well be quoting Mickey Mouse as an authority.   

ZC nexts addresses specifically the alleged “virgin birth” of Mithra on Dec. 25th.  Once again, they may as well quote the mouse, but they actually quote  Acharya S, who says:  
As concerns the debate regarding the Perso-Roman god Mithra‘s virgin birth,not a few scholars and writers of Persian/Iranian extract have discussed the Persian goddess of love Anahita as Mithra‘s virgin mother.

In the scholarly digest Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress, Dr. Martin Schwartz, a professor of Iranian Studies at the University of California, discusses the Armenian national epic concerning Mithra, who is called the Great Mher.In recounting a myth regarding the Great Mher (Mithra), Dr. Schwartz relates the story of his father, Sanasar, who along with his twin brother Baltasar is ― born of a virgin who becomes pregnant from the water of the Milky Fountain of Immortality…’ “He next says:

“Combining these data with the tradition found in Elise that Mithra was born of God through a human may suggest a transference of the miraculous birth of the Sosyants to Mithra.”

ZC sums up: “In other words, in certain traditions Mithra was said to have been born of the union of God with a human mortal, possibly a virgin mother like that of his father.”

Well, that’s a train of speculation that crashes into the station before it even gets stated. “Possibly” a virgin mother? In other words, there’s no evidence for it at all. But the real clue is that this is from an “Armenian epic” about Mitrha, which is something later than Christianity. In fact, elsewhere in the same book, Hinnnells remarks on the uncertainty of the date of the Armenian epic, and says it would be “premature to use the Armenian epic to interpret Roman Mithraism.” (357) One wonders why Acharya didn’t see fit to share this information. Acharya also repeats her rather silly idea that the rock Mithra was born from can be called a “virgin” because “mater” (mother) in Latin goes back to the same word as the Latin for “matter” (material). As I said before to that, however, that’s merely vivid imagination at work. We have yet to see any reference to a rock as a “virgin”.

As far as December 25th as Mithra’s birthday goes, ZC quotes no authority on Mithraism, and no ancient source; rather, it quotes the Catholic Encyclopedia, and a 1916 book by Thomas Thorburn. I have yet to see any Mithraic authority designate December 25 as Mithra’s birthdate, much less see an original ancient source cited. The “natalis invicti” referred to is that of the birth of Sol Invictus, and that is first referenced as December 25th in 354 AD. I’ll have more to say on this later, as I’m currently doing a project which includes discussions on the origins of December 25th as the observed birthday of Jesus. (Just a heads up: It may well be that it was selected for Jesus much earlier than I first thought.)

The last part we’ll look at today is the claim of 12 disciples for Mithra, and here, after an extended diversion on the use of the number 12 in Judaism as some sort of alleged astrological signal (guess what that means when you buy a dozen eggs?), ZC decides it isn’t that significant after all:

The point here is not whether or not these companions are depicted as interacting in the same manner as the disciples of Jesus but that the theme of the god or godman with the 12 surrounding him is common enough -- and with very popular deities in the same region — to have served as a precedent for the Christian Twelve with Christ at their center. It surely would have struck any intelligent and half-way educated member of the Roman Empire as very odd when Christians attempted to tell their supernatural
tales of a Jewish godman with 12 companions, in consideration of the fact that there were already so many of these saviors in variety of cultures.

Well, actually, yes – that WAS the point, in good measure, because after all, the claim is phrased in terms of Mithra having 12 DISCIPLES. Not 12 plumbers, or 12 milkmen. In any event, if there were “many of these saviors” we are still left with the fact that the only evidence of Mithra in association with these 12 (non-)disciples postdates Christianity, and the 12 disciples of Jesus have their precedence in the 12 tribes of Israel. This is not altered or affected by any interpretation of the 12 tribes in terms of the signs of the Zodiac by Jewish authors like Philo and Josephus, as ZC claims, since both Philo and Josephus nevertheless saw the 12 sons of Abraham and the 12 tribes as historical people. In other words, such connections add nothing to the mythicist case, because they cannot simply cherry pick what they want from Josephus and Philo.

We’ll be back with more in the next entry.



  1. I hope you know who asked you to review this one. I still never found those two guys in Charlotte that asked you to review Zeitgeist. I'm sure the search is continuing with my friends over there still!

  2. Sorry, this is completely off-topic, but what is going on with TheologyWeb?

    I haven't been there for a while (I only ever lurked and read the threads, never got around to joining the site), but had a notion to go see what was going on there the other day, and I can't connect to it. Can't get there from any of three different Internet providers I have access to. In fact, looks like many of Dee-Dee Warren's web sites (preteristsite, etc.) are down.

  3. @Jared: Haven't a clue, but if it is all three of her sites her host must have gotten walloped.

  4. I've always thought the copycat reference to twelve disciples to be rather curious. Are hearers of this notion that unfamiliar with Judaism? Jesus was a teacher, or 'rabbi' in Hebrew, and he had twelve students, or 'disciples' in Greek. Rabbis having pupils is hardly a notion Jews would need to borrow. That leaves us with the number 12. As mentioned by JP, there were twelve tribes.