How much of Christianity was lifted from the pre-Christian world?

Sorry to keep you waiting with this post. I guess I should’ve mentioned that the second semester of my third year at university is now in full swing.

In this post I’ll attempt not just to outline how many of the main points of Christianity are borrowed from pre-Christian/pagan belief systems, but by the end establish what that means, focusing on some of the key points found in popular Christianity as it is imagined today.

 

God himself

We already know that Yahweh/Jehovah, the supreme deity of the Bible, was originally a minor Canaanite deity of war, who ascended in status within the Hebrew pantheon as the chief deity of their people (in other words the God of Israel), the context of which transitioned from that of a merely henotheistic tradition (that is the belief that there are many gods but the practice of worshiping just one; i.e. on the basis of tribalism) to that of a full-blown monotheistic tradition. As time passed, Yahweh also accrued many characteristics associated with other deities such as El or Zeus, and became the far more warlike and supposedly omnipresent and loving version of both. And after the Jews were exiled from Babylon, Yahweh transformed from just the God of Israel to the ruling deity of everything.

Yahweh himself is just another deity in a long line of supreme deities with slightly similar characteristics. Ahura Mazda in Persia, Aten and Ra in Egypt, Ba’al and El in Canaan, Marduk in Babylon, Indra and Varuna in India, and of course Zeus in Greece. And we know that before the ascent of monotheism, Yahweh was in direct competition with other deities. Among his biggest rivals was a deity named Chemosh (or Kemosh), whom the Bible refers to as the “abomination of Moab”, a deity that archaeological evidence points to as being not so different from Yahweh.

Kemosh (aka Chemosh)

Kemosh (aka Chemosh)

 

The messianic archetype

Jesus himself was not stolen from paganism, contrary to what Bill Maher and Peter Joseph would have you believe. However, the role he plays in the Bible is that of an archetype that has been passed down throughout the ages. The archetypal role assumed by Jesus is of course the role of a dying and rising deity, or divine being. One of the most familiar examples of this in Mesopotamian mythology is the deity of vegetation known as Tammuz, the deity to whom the origins of the Christian cross are sometimes attributed. Tammuz was believed to have died at the hands of the spirits of the underworld or his wife Inanna/Ishtar, and descended to the underworld only to rise again every six months. Then there is Osiris, who was killed by Set only to be resurrected by Isis and go on to become the lord of the Egyptian netherworld. Among the deities worshipped by the Phrygians was a deity of vegetation and fertility named Attis, who went crazy and mutilated himself only to, depending on who you ask, either resurrect or reincarnate as a pine tree. In another sense, Ishtar’s descent into the underworld is sort of similar to the descent of Jesus into Hell, except that Ishtar dies and resurrects while in the underworld while Jesus is crucified to death and then goes to Hell in order liberate the souls of the damned. In the case of Ishtar, her mission was to save Tammuz who had apparently been dragged to the underworld by Ereshkigal’s spirits.

There are other aspects associated with messianic archetypes that I’ve covered in my post about the “Divine Individual“.

 

Some familiar public holidays

I’ve talked about this before in the early days of my blog and I plan on covering this subject in greater detail in separate posts dedicated to the eight holidays associated with the Neopagan wheel of the year, but we’ll quickly go through the holidays popularly celebrated in the West. The timing of the Christmas holiday season is based on Saturnalia and other winter solstice festivals and is found nowhere in the Bible, the premise of Easter hinges on a myth that, as was just explained, derives from pre-Christian archetypes and storytelling, and while the modern Halloween is largely shaped by Christian and American tradition, the date of the Samhain celebrated by Celtic pagans is, perhaps coincidentally, near to the date that Halloween is celebrated now, and the theme of monsters and night terrors associated with Halloween was also found in European pagan traditions which hold that time to be either Samhain, Walpurgisnacht or both.

 

Heaven and Hell

The belief in an afterlife divided in terms of a blissful kingdom of light versus a dark nether realm filled with demons or monsters has been traced to as far back as ancient Egypt, as has the basic concept of the individual soul being judged after death. The Duat was the ancient Egyptian version of the underworld, filled with all manner of monstrous figures and daemonic beings and the site of the regular journey of the solar deity Ra. It is even documented within Egyptian lore that a serpent bent on mankind’s destruction slithers through the underworld, waiting for the opportunity to strike at Ra whenever he journeys into the underworld, which is similar enough to the Christian view of Satan as the adversary of mankind who also appears as either a dragon or as “that old serpent” intent on striking down Jehovah/Yahweh. However, for the ordinary Egyptian, being trapped in the underworld was not the main fear, rather the prospect of being annihilated in the jaws of Ammut if the soul was found wanting by Anubis. The equivalent heavenly realm is Aaru, a prestine field of reeds which resembled life in Egypt, which the Egyptians felt was the greatest thing on earth and wanted to continue living for eternity. And if the soul was deemed worthy of passing into such a beneficent afterlife, then it would indeed be allowed to pass on an live forever with loved ones and pets. Does that sound familiar?

Don’t forget that many pre-Christian traditions have their own conceptions of the afterlife, and there are several heavens and hells found in the mythologies of the world. In Greece, for instance, those who lived a good and virtuous life or were heroic in some way would enter Elysium, provided that they were remembered by their peers and their descendants, while more wicked individuals would descend into the dungeon of Tartarus, where the Titans were also imprisoned, and everyone else would go to the fields of Asphodel, a meadow in the underworld where ordinary souls pass on that was neither a heaven nor a hell, all after the judgement of the soul. Oh, and much like how Christians believe that Yahweh reserved a lake of fire for the devil and his angels, Tartarus is the place where deities like Zeus cast down their enemies, such as Typhon.

Fallen angels in Hell by John Martin

Fallen angels in Hell by John Martin

 

Angels and demons

Pre-Christian belief systems all had their own varieties of spirits, with plenty of them falling into either the angelic or demonic categories. Mesopotamia had the Shedim, which were largely seen as demonic beings. Other demonic beings included Gallu, Lamashtu and Pazuzu, the baddest of the bunch. Evil spirits were often viewed as the cause of disease and were sometimes capable of bringing harm to humans and abduct their children, particularly night spirits such as Lamashtu and Lilitu, the latter a precursor, at least in name, to the the Biblical Lilith (we’ll get into that in a future Mythological Spotlight, once I get around to writing one). The closest things to angels in Mesopotamian lore were probably beings such as the Apkallu, who were winged sages or demigods who were viewed as teachers and protective spirits. Egyptian, as was already established, was host to several spirits. What we would could demons were viewed by the Egyptians as liminal spirits, frequently either hostile beings or guardians of the netherworld who could be called upon to protect humans, and thousands of nameless demons have been found in depictions on all manner of items from both religious and mundane items in Egyptian society. The Greeks recognized the term daemon – from which we get the nomenclature “demon” – as a general term for spirit, and often these spirits were seen a guiding forces, though there were of course malevolent spirits in Greek lore (a disease spirit named Aerico immediately springs to mind). Romans had a similar belief and believed in the concept of genii, who often served as the spirits of the household. India and Persia observed the similar divide between good and evil spirits. For the Indians, it was the devas, apsaras and sometimes yakshas on the good side, with the asuras, rakshasas and other ghoulish spirits on the evil side. In Persia the devas were actually on the evil camp, identified as “daevas” and the minions of Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, while the good spirits are identified as the Amesha Spentas in service of Ahura Mazda. In fact it’s in Persia via the Zoroastrians that we encounter one of the earliest clear cut incarnations of the concept of good versus evil personified as God versus Satan in the form of Ahura Mazda versus Angra Mainyu.

 

 

Good old fashioned Christian values

The “family values” platitude that is stereo-typically attached to conservative Christians are not especially new. In fact, at the very least it goes back to the Roman Empire. The emperor Augustus instituted a series of reforms aimed at aligning Roman society towards “traditional Roman values” – values such as monogamy and chastity. He even went so far as to criminalize adultery and imposed financial penalties on people who did not marry and have children, which to be fair seems a tad more extreme than the kind of family values politics that Western societies would have to deal with in the modern world.

The concept of marriage, which is often seen as a Christian institution, has been a recognized social and romantic union for longer than Christianity has been recognized as a religion. Marriage rituals have been known to exist in ancient Greece, Rome and China, and the contract of marriage, and divorce, has even been around in ancient Mesopotamian society. In Mesopotamia, marriage was valued for much the same reason we do now – to ensure the continuation of a given family line. Rome also considered monogamy to be the tradition for marriage in society, just as we do now. Of course, the ancient world had a tendency to value arranged marriage, whereas in the modern world we value the choice of getting married.

Then there are some of the debatably more positive values sometimes ascribed to Christianity, which have been observed as far back as the days of ancient Akkad.

 

The influence of the mystery cults

Greece and Rome were home to a particular phenomenon known as the “mystery cult”, which is basically a religious movement characterized by secretive rituals and the tendency to center around a specific deity (like Mithraism for example). There was an Eleusinian mystery cult centering around the goddess Demeter, based around the story of the abduction of her daughter Persephone, the wrath she wrought upon the earth and its fertility and the resurrection of vegetation and thus life. The re-emergence of Persephone was supposed to be representative of the possibility of eternal life through participation in the mysteries. The exact nature of the ritual performed in the Eleusinian mysteries is disputed, but it is possible that the ritual took place in an underground passage or theater and was intended to convey the whole death and rebirth message. It is also said that the Eleusinian mystery participants purified themselves by bathing in the sea. The cult of Dionysus had its own communion, typically described as a sharing of wine (which would be befitting of the deity of wine). The Mithraic mysteries were also known for featuring an oblation of bread and water or wine, at least for initiates of certain degrees, which may have served as either a reminder of their faith or as a means of giving them the power to resist the forces of evil. The Orphic mysteries stressed that only by following their rites, practicing abstinence from sensual pleasures (such as sex) and devoting yourself to the mystery can you guarantee salvation and join the gods on the fields of Elysium for all eternity. And don’t forget the Egyptian mysteries, including the mystery of Osiris which proclaimed “Be of good cheer, O initiates, for the god is saved, and we shall have salvation from our woes”. The promise of eternal salvation through initiation into the mystery cult and performance of its rites very much strikes accord with the Christian idea that you can be saved by being baptized, receiving communion and following Jesus.

 

So what does that mean, exactly?

I do not consider Christianity to be a complete clone of one single religion, as many critics of Christianity are want to do, instead I consider it to be supported by collection of ideas that existed well before both Christianity and Judaism. It started off as an offshoot of Judaism, which itself emerged out of the henotheistic tradition observed in the land of Canaan, and it embraced many ideas that happened to be observed by the rivaling pagan traditions, but in doing so the Christians essentially repurposed them for their own belief system. Many of these old ideas, it seems, are in fact very ancient, and have been with humanity for a very long time. And as much as the idea that Christianity took over solely through violent conquest is an appealing narrative to people more vociferously anti-Christian than I (and believe me I still am considerably anti-Christian; it practically comes with being a Satanist/Luciferian), I suspect many appropriations of polytheistic teachings and those of the mystery cults were more likely either reflective of the religion as a product of its time – remember that the religion had developed in the Roman Empire alongside the other traditions – or as a means of drawing pagans away from their old belief systems and into the new one. I think that when this is understood when dealing with modern Christianity, you can render Christianity essentially harmless for what it is – a messianic Jewish faith that with synthesized pagan beliefs, sometimes the same beliefs that are also present in Judaism I might add.

 

Just as an aside to close this post, I can’t guarantee that I will post as frequently as I would like to, due to university commitments, but I’ll see what I can do.

Advertisements

The 6 gods and goddesses I dislike the most

Welcome to another godly countdown! I didn’t think I’d do another one to be honest. Over a year ago, I wrote a post about my top 10 favorite gods from mythology, and this week it suddenly came to me: what about the gods I dislike. This was actually rather hard because there are only a few gods I dislike compared to gods I either like or just think of as OK. For this list, these are the gods that I dislike the most, and not even because they suck either.

By the way, usually I use the term deities or god-images, but here they are referred to as gods for the sake of it and for the sake of continuity to the other countdown.

6.) Ouranos (a.k.a. Uranus)

This guy is the original Sky Father of Greek mythology, and it seems like the Sky Father is a real asshole. He mated with Gaia every night, but he hated every one of the children she bore him. One day he locked up all of Gaia’s youngest offspring in Tartarus, which caused great pain to Gaia, so much in fact that she created a flint-like object and asked her offspring castrate him. Among them only Cronus was willing to do so, and so he castrated him and throw his manhood into the sea. Ouranos to me is an epitome of the archetypal Sky Father, who is usually a prick to Earth. It’s likely his archetype, which permeates throughout some other gods on this list.

5.) Athena (a.k.a. Minerva)

Athena is an overrated goddess, and she is very petty for a so-called goddess of wisdom, and is very nasty to other women for no good reason. Before Medusa was the monster we know, she was a beautiful high priestess of Athena, but then Poseidon raped her in Athena’s temple. But does Athena punish Poseidon for raping her? No. Instead she punishes Medusa for getting raped in her temple by turning her hair to serpents and making her face for terrible that onlookers would turn to stone. Clearly she has no idea how to look out for her own worshipers if they’re women. Why the hell would she not punish Poseidon for raping Medusa? Why would she punish Medusa for getting raped? Then there’s the story of Arachne, a weaver who claimed she could weave better than the goddess Athena. She challenged Arachne to a weaving contest where the loser must promise never to weave again. Arachne bests her by weaving a more beautiful tapestry than her. Out of jealousy, she turns her into a spider (in another version she makes her hang herself) in what is a case of the sorest loser in Greek mythology. What a petty bitch! Speaking of which…

4.) Hera (a.k.a. Juno)

It seems like sooner or later you’ll see a pattern emerging: that I generally don’t seem to favor the gods of Greco-Roman mythology. Immediately after Athena, we have Hera, the goddess of marriage, women, and childbirth. I personally consider her the goddess of jealousy. She is constantly jealous and vengeful towards Zeus’ other lovers and always puts him down for his flings, although to her credit he does cheat on her pretty much all the time (and wouldn’t you feel humiliated or unloved in that situation?), but her jealousy goes far beyond just Zeus’ flings. She also has the nerve to take it out of the offspring of Zeus’ lovers, to the point that her vindictive desires stop being justifiable. The story of Heracles (or Hercules as he is more often called) is all about him going through a series of arduous tasks and quests in order to redeem himself for killing his own children and wife, but it was never really his crime. Hera made him do it, literally, by inducing madness in him. That’s right, Hera would make someone kill innocent people just to get back at Zeus. And before that she sent snakes to kill him and his mortal twin brother, Iphicles. The sad thing is if it weren’t for her being a total bitch, she’d be another bland, uninteresting Greek goddess. That’s my problem with Greek gods in general, I find myself uninterested in many of them. The only gods I find particularly interesting or Dionysus, Hecate, Hermes, and Ares.

3.) Cronus (a.k.a. Kronos, Cronos, or Saturn)

This guy seems to be without morals whatsoever. In fact the only good thing he did was castrate Ouranos at Gaia’s behest. After that he became the ruler of the Titans, and later on he eats his own children out of a fear that they would usurp him, except for Zeus who survives with the help of Rhea. Cronus to me a symbol of the death of youth and spirit in the human sphere, and thus he represents things I fight against.

2.) Zeus (a.k.a. Jupiter)

Oh boy, this bastard must be the most popular Greek god, and I can’t imagine why other than the fact that he was the ruler of the gods in Greek mythology. Like some of the other Greek gods, he seems keen on mankind worshipping him and the gods, and when Prometheus taught fire to mankind, he punishes Prometheus for it, thus punishing him for bringing wisdom to mankind and being anything close to a benefactor of mankind, and not only that but he and the other Olympians create Pandora and set her up to unleash all evil in the world so that mankind would have to toil and succumb to illness, and after that she and all womankind would be blamed for it. All that because he hates that mankind has fire to empower himself with. He’s also supposed to be a god of law, order, and justice and an upholder of morals, but he’s massively hypocritical. He constantly cheats on his wife and he doesn’t just have sex with mortal women who he doesn’t love, he’s raping them! He forces himself on women whether they want it or not, sometimes disguised as animals (thus adding an extra element of bestiality to the mix), and at one point he even had sex with a mortal woman disguised as her real husband (which is how Heracles was born). Not only that, but he does very little to protect the women he flings with or the children they bear, leaving Hera free to exact her wrath upon them and sometimes try to kill them. You could say that Zeus had a fucked up childhood, what with Cronus trying to eat him. You’d be right, but that doesn’t change the fact that, compared to Zeus, Cronus was tame.

1.) Jehovah (a.k.a. Yahweh, Allah, or “God”)

Yep, you saw this coming. To be honest I was actually trying to keep the god of the Bible, Torah, and Quran from the top of this list because it was too easy, but I just couldn’t do it. After some thought, the other gods on this list are assholes, but Jehovah not has everything that makes the other gods assholes, he has much more. To keep it as short as possible since I’ve already talked about him many times before, this guy tries keep mankind in a state of thought slavery so that he may be worshiped by all, and anyone who disagrees with him he sends to hell for all eternity. He knew that people would eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in turn disobeying him, so that Adam and Eve could be cast out of paradise, and mankind would be mortal, have to toil, and need him for salvation. All throughout the Bible he leads a chosen people to conquer the “promised land” in a campaign of rape and genocide, and not even children are spared. This guy also has all the jealousy and vindictiveness of Hera only worse, the hypocritical morality of Zeus only of much greater hypocrisy (although unlike Zeus he only had his way with one mortal lady), and like Ouranos he seems to hate his own creations especially mankind (he obviously does if he’s planning to destroy it all in the end, and doesn’t want man to grow into independent creatures; and in the case of Ouranos, Gaia’s children are Ouranos’ children, since it does take two to tango after all). And if you believe Jehovah is God, and that this means being the master of life and death, then this automatically means he decides whether someone gets to be born or not, and that makes him the biggest abortionist of all time, and let alone mass murderer of children.

Honorable mentions:

Indra -I find it hard to truly dislike Indra. Although he is by-and-large the Indian equivalent of Zeus, he actually does get his comeuppance for his shenanigans, and is probably less hypocritical about it than Zeus. It’s actually difficult to stay mad at Indra, mostly because he has greater charm than Zeus and becomes better in Buddhist lore.

Vishnu – It’s the same with Vishnu. Despite my history of objection towards Vishnu’s role in Hindu mythology, the theologies surrounding him, and his avatars especially Krishna, I can’t really stay mad at him for long, and I certainly can’t say I dislike him entirely, or at least not enough to merit him a spot on this list. This is mostly because Vishnu is still a rather interesting character in Hindu mythology, and there’s aspects of him I actually like. Also note that Krishna and the other avatars are not their own gods. If you could consider them as such, Krishna would have been on this list

Aten – Despite being basically the Egyptian form of YHWH, there’s very little about him to criticize. He’s just a monotheistic sun god and that’s all there is to it. While he did have a royal cult for a while which meant everyone in Egypt had to worship him alone, but this did not last very long.

Horus – Horus may be a very political representation of order against chaos, which annoys me, and he may have sodomized the god Set, but he still just doesn’t annoy or outrage me enough to make this list. Somehow.

Why Lucifer wouldn’t take sides with “God” or Satan

God Versus Devil by VegasMike on Deviantart

I know, you probably think this title is strange, or makes no sense. After all, aren’t Lucifer and Satan the same entity? Well let’s view it in this sense. The Christian God, or Yahweh/El, and Satan are two sides of a war, in which they use humanity as pawns for their own ends. To them humanity is just ignorant fodder for the war, and who knows whether they care after it’s all over. And here, Lucifer, that rebel angel, is caught in the middle, and he’s not taking sides with either. Perhaps he objects to the whole idea, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to have to obey either side. Either way, he’s not taking sides, and going his own way.

The whole point behind this scenario is this: if Lucifer were a true rebel, and if he was caught between two sides, he wouldn’t side with anyone, and instead assert his independence, just like a true devil.

Of course, if Lucifer is the same as Satan, then at least he didn’t take a side, or rather claimed his own. But I don’t see him playing the same game, and I don’t see him being the Satan of our traditional “God versus Satan” conflict.

My problem with the Biblical/Abrahamic god

I'm not afraid.

I’m not afraid.

In November, I posted about El and the Abrahamic god, and the relation between the two, as well as my concept of God. But now I’m here to talk about my problem with the Biblical and Abrahamic concept of God. The Canaanite El wasn’t so bad, but the Biblical evolution of that god attained new characteristics. Some derived from other gods, others new and more suited to his role as the monotheistic supreme deity ruling over humanity. And that’s just one part of why the god of the Abrahamic religions is a god I have always had a problem with.

Why? Because he makes pretty much no sense.

In the Bible he is apparently a loving, benevolent, merciful, and compassionate god, while simultaneously a jealous god that forbids you from worshiping other gods, a genocidal god attributed to a kill count in the hundreds and thousands, a god who, in opposition to his supposedly all-loving nature, sends everyone who disagrees with him, doesn’t believe in him, or doesn’t worship him to a place of eternal hellfire, torture, and gnashing of teeth, apparently hates women, is an immense control freak and tyrant, and in the end, is simply using humans as ignorant fodder for his goals. Anyone arguing that God’s support for free will can easily be demolished by not just that, but also the notion, in the Bible, that he has some kind of plan for humanity. That would lend him to be called a hypocrite, in my eyes.

But wait, that’s in the Bible, and its tales. Thinking about it, can you really trust the Bible, let alone on God? For all we know, the Bible is just a propagandizing collection of books, merely embellishing the nature of their god, mythologizing it, along with their religion and its values. If the Biblical god were really all-powerful, why does he need us, let alone why does he need to control him? Why does he need us to worship him? Why does he care what we do if he’s beyond human? Why would he penalize humans for following their instincts which he instilled in them? If his moral laws were absolute, then it should be impossible to go against them, so why can we? And if he was really as were encouraged to believe, an all-loving god, then consider this: that god would have the power to decide people’s lives and their fate, and that means he could put anyone in a life that is utterly one sack of crap for them. Now why would a supposedly loving god do that?

There you have it, the Biblical god is just a god that makes no sense, that contradicts itself, and is ultimately heavily mythological, which is often the source of his flawed nature, and his unworthiness for the status of an absolute one that is commonly ascribed to him.

Here’s a video from someone that I think describes things well:

If you want to see the posts mentioned above, here’s some links.

Why I think El is the Biblical God: https://mythoughtsbornfromfire.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/why-i-think-the-biblical-god-is-el/

God and Deity: https://mythoughtsbornfromfire.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/god-and-deity/

Why I think El is the Abrahamic god

I suspect the Abrahamic god has its roots with the Canaanite god El, and in fact it, technically, is El. For starters, the names of the angels and of Israel ends with El, and El refers to God. Second, one can take the Biblical god as a composite of many Canaanite gods, including characteristics of Hadad, god of storms and fertitlity who opposed the sea monster Yam, but his main characteristics are those of El: an ancient and fatherly sky god depicted as a bearded elderly man, maintainer of order in the universe, his son (Hadad) died and was resurrected (albeit by his sister Anat), he is somewhat distant and unapproachable and required a go-between to send prayers to, and he was called Father of Humanity, Father of Time, Eternal Father, etc. El is actually the primary source of our image of God in this respect, and in a way, the Biblical faiths really just took El to different levels and adding the characteristics of a montheistic god. Thusly, I find the name Yahweh inappropriate.