Let’s now continue with a few more items on Mithra from the Zeitgeist Companion.
Miracles. We won’t even need to discuss this one, because as we noted in the article on Mithra, miracles are just a normal job description for any deity. The ZC doesn’t even address this point.
Death/Resurrection. I quoted an expert in Mithraism as saying there is “no death of Mithras,” so you may wonder how ZC counters this. The answer is no surprise: They reach back to dated non-experts in the field.
First, they quote Harold Willoughby, a Biblical scholar who wrote in 1929. Willoughby strains for an example of which we said in STCM:
Freke and Gandy claim that the Mithraic initiates “enacted a similar resurrection scene”, but their only reference is to a comment by the early church author Tertullian, significantly after New Testament times. What Tertullian says, even so, is of little use:
…if my memory still serves me, Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan, ) sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers; celebrates also the oblation of bread, and introduces an image of a resurrection, and before a sword wreathes a crown…
So Freke and Gandy’s argument relies on Tertullian’s memory, and it is not the initiates but Mithra who does the celebrating, and he introduces an image of a resurrection – whatever that may be.
Willoughby says that this is “intelligible” as a simulation of death. Well, that’s not evidence of Mithra himself being resurrected, and not even Willoughby says as much. In fact, the paragraph prior makes it fairly clear it can’t be Mithra he thinks is the resurrection subject:
Distinctive among the preliminary Mithraic tests was a simulated murder. Apparently, there was performed by the initiate, more likely on the initiate, the feint of a murder. The historian Lampridius in telling of the mad freaks of the emperor Commodus said that during the Mithraic ceremonies "he polluted the rites by a real murder where a certain thing was to be done for the sake of inspiring terror." Probably at the time the emperor was officiating as a Pater at one of the lower degrees of initiation, perhaps that of the Soldier, when he committed the cruel deed. Doubtless in its origin the simulated murder of Mithraism was real--if not a human sacrifice, at least a mortal combat. Later it became a less dangerous test and finally a mere liturgical fiction. The wholesale charges of murder which were made against the devotees of Mithra by late and hostile writers are as little deserving of credence as similar charges that were made against the Christians.
Other than this, ZC quotes J. P. Lundy and Gerald Berry, neither of whom were qualified scholars on the subject of Mithraism. In fact, Lundy merely quotes Dupuis, who is even less of an expert. Not that it matters, since not one word of what is claimed by Lundy and Berry reflects what is found in credible Mithraic scholarship by Ulansey, Beck, and others.
The one credible source quoted is Mary Boyce, who says, “Mithra’ s feast was observed at a time traditionally associated with the Zoroastrian feast of the resurrection.” But this says nothing about Mithra himself being resurrected, and Boyce’s comment relates to an explanation of modification of the Zoroastrian calendar, which resulted in a coincidental collocation of the dates of two festivals.
Next time we’ll close out with the last set of comparisons.