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The cover of The Jesus Mysteries features a gem of Dionysus/Orpheus.
The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? is a 1999 book by British authors Timothy Freke, a philosophy and religions scholar, and Peter Gandy a classics scholar. Although it deals with Jesus, this book is not primarily a work of Biblical scholarship, but a rigorous secular investigation of early Christianity prior to the 4th century CE, when direct political intervention by the Roman Emperor Constantine forced various competing Christian sects to unify under a statement of faith (the Nicene Creed). At this time the writings that are today known as the New Testament canon were deliberately selected, and other texts abandoned, due to a lack of agreement on the parts of the negotiators. This book aims to rediscover Christianity prior to political interference from 4th century Rome.
Freke and Gandy systematically examine every conceiveable article of evidence from ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilisations, which makes this book especially useful as a bibliographical reference for students of religion, classics and Near Eastern studies. In particular they examine the remarkable similarity of important elements of Jesus' divinity with a number of mystery religions, such as those of the ancient gods Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, and Mithras, apparently manifestations of a single cult of a dying and rising "godman" myth, known to classical scholarship asOsiris-Dionysus. The authors propose that Jesus did not literally exist as an historically identifiable individual, but was instead a syncretic re-interpretation of the fundamental pagan "godman" by the Gnostics, who were the original sect of Christianity. Orthodox Christianity, according to them, was not the predecessor to Gnosticism, but a later outgrowth that rewrote history in order to make literal Christianity appear to predate the Gnostics. They describe their theory as the "Jesus Mysteries thesis."
Jesus Mysteries thesisEdit
Freke and Gandy base the Jesus Mysteries thesis partly on a series of parallels between their suggested biography of Osiris-Dionysus and the biography of Jesus drawn from the four canonical gospels. Their suggested reconstruction of the myth of Osiris-Dionysus, compiled from the myths of ancient dying and resurrected "godmen," bears a striking resemblance to the gospel accounts. The authors give a short list of parallels at the beginning of the book:
- Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh, the savior and "Son of God."
- His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin, 7 month pregnancy.
- He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on December 25 before three shepherds.
- He offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism.
- He miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
- He rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while people wave palm leaves to honor him.
- He dies at Eastertime as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
- After his death he descends to hell, then on the third day he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven in glory.
- His followers await his return as the judge during the Last Days.
- His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine, which symbolize his body and blood.
Later chapters add further parallels, including Mary's 7 month pregnancy.
According to The Jesus Mysteries, Christianity originated as a Judaized version of the pagan mystery religions. Hellenized Jews wrote a version of the godman myth incorporating Jewish elements. Initiates learned the myth and its allegorical meanings through the Outer and Inner Mysteries. (A similar pattern of "Lesser" and "Greater" Mysteries was part of the pagan Eleusinian Mysteries. Mithraism was structured around seven serial initiations.) They suggest that, at some point, groups of Christians who had only experienced the Outer Mysteries were split off from the elders of the religion and forgot that there had ever been a second initiation, and that, later, when they encountered groups who had retained the Inner Mysteries, the "Literalist Christians" attacked the "Gnostics" for claiming what the Literalists saw as false knowledge and false initiations. They claim that the Literalists won out when the emperor Constantine saw the political merit of 'one empire, one emperor, one god', nearly exterminating the Gnostics, and became the Roman Catholic Church and its modern descendants.
Attitudes to the Jesus Mysteries are, understandably, extremely divided as the thesis is a threat to the modern incarnation of orthodox Christianity, which is far removed in time and purpose from early Christianity. Unsurprisingly, negative opinions of the book mainly emanate from deeply indoctrinated modern Christian believers, for whom secular scholarship of the Bible is largely considered to be a threat because religious belief, by its nature, is often at odds with secularist reason. However, religious dogma has no place within modern scientific reason, and therefore, the objections of officials within organised religions are to be expected. Basically, the complex moral questions the Jesus Mysteries provokes are: can you blindly believe religious dogmas without questioning them AND still be a reasonable human being? If you are truly a believer why do you need to suppress objective questioning?
Positive reviews include:
"The Jesus Mysteries is a provocative, exciting and challenging book. Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy will force a new debate in Christian circles for which the Church will ultimately be grateful."
Right Rev'd John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark,Author of Why Christianity Must Change or Die
"The parallels between paganism and Christianity that Freke and Gandy advance are impressive."
Professor G A Wells, author of The Jesus Myth
"The lively and energetic style of this book will give the ordinary reader a rare insight into what may be called the New Age of Antiquity, and thereby also to the obscure and intriguing beginnings of Christianity. Scholars will appreciate the thorough documentation, specified in hundreds of footnotes."
Professor Alvar Ellegard, author of Jesus - One Hundred Years Before Christ
"I have used this book in my graduate seminar on Christian Origins. I think it is an excellent book for introducing anyone interested in Christian origins to the relationships between earliest Christianity and other religions of the Greco-Roman world."
Professor Darrell J. Doughty
"This is a powerful book, and its impact, like a rolling express train, accelerates as one is carried along, page after page, through the authors’ demolition of the Literalist Christian tradition."
Chris Forbes, an ancient historian and senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has criticised the work noting that Freke and Gandy are "not real scholars, they are popularisers.” He notes that their arguments about Jesus are "grossly misconceived, and their attempt to draw links between Jesus and various pagan god-men is completely muddled. It looks impressive because of the sheer mass of the material, but when you break it down and look at it point by point, it really comes to pieces.” 
Paul Barnett, a New Testament scholar who has authored several books on the historical Jesus, argues that a good proportion of the citations are out of date. "Like the Gnostics, Freke and Gandy have a mystical mindset and therefore oppose Christianity as grounded in history," he wrote. "They hate the idea that the incarnation of the Son of God and his resurrection could have been a matter of actual flesh and blood and time and place."
When the BBC approached N. T. Wright, asking him to debate Freke and Gandy concerning their thesis in The Jesus Mysteries, Wright replied that "this was like asking a professional astronomer to debate with the authors of a book claiming the moon was made of green cheese."
Bart Ehrman, in an interview with the Fortean Times, was similarly asked for his views on the work of Freke and Gandy. He responded by saying, "This is an old argument, even though it shows up every 10 years or so. This current craze that Christianity was a mystery religion like these other mystery religions-the people who are saying this are almost always people who know nothing about the mystery religions; they've read a few popular books, but they're not scholars of mystery religions. The reality is, we know very little about mystery religions-the whole point of mystery religions is that they're secret! So I think it's crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this.
David Allan Dodson, a reviewer for CNN, found the book to be interesting, he stated that "while the authors discuss many examples of elements of Osiris/Dionysus in the Jesus story, they virtually ignore the more direct ties to Jewish tradition and prophecy. This oversight undermines the credibility of many of their arguments, and could have the tendency to mislead the novice reader in this subject". However, while Dodson wasn't fully convinced by the authors that Jesus was completely fictional, he did end his review with the following supportive remarks: "The Jesus Mysteries left this reviewer more convinced than ever that the life of Jesus as we know it is filled with mythological, political, and even polemical elements. Freke and Gandy succeed in bringing some important points about Christianity to the public in a readable, compelling book. Perhaps their willingness to state 'the unthinkable thought' will lead to more objective thinking about religion and tolerance. If so, The Jesus Mysteries is a worthy effort indeed".
- Historicity of Jesus
- Jesus as myth: some of the criticism and support for the Jesus myth can be applied to Jesus Mysteries
- Josephus on Jesus
- ↑ Guthrie, William Keith Chambers (1952). Orpheus and Greek Religion. London: Methuen. p. 278.
- ↑ Freke and Gandy, Jesus Mysteries, p. 5.
- ↑ http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/thinking/387a/ The Jesus Mysteries - a critique]
- ↑ The Jesus Mysteries - a critique
- ↑ N. T. Wright, "Jesus' Self Understanding", in Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, Gerald O’Collins, The Incarnation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 48
- ↑ Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, "The Gospel According to Bart", Fortean Times (221), 2007
- ↑ CNN.com, "Review: Jesus -- man or myth?", September 21, 2000
- Books by Freke and Gandy on the Jesus Mysteries theme
- The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? (1999)
- Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians (2002)
- The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom (2005)
- The Gospel of the Second Coming (2007)
- Reinventing Jesus, Komoszewski et al., Kregel, ISBN 978-0-8254-2982-8, (2006)
- The Jesus Mysteries (excerpts)
- Review: Jesus -- man or myth?
- Review: James Hannam
- 2007 In-depth video interview with Timothy Freke on The Alcove with Mark Molaroes:Los misterios de Jesús. El origen oculto de la religión cristiana