Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mithras Liturgy - Mithraism


According to Max Muller, the proto Indo-Iranian religion started off as sun worship and later branched into independent religions of the Persian god of Mithra and the Vedic god of Mitra. Mithraism was one of the most popular religions of the roman imperialism along side Christianity and the origin of Mithraism in Rome is still under dispute (See - Mithraic Mysteries and Mithraism and Christianity ).

What is Mithras Liturgy?
The Papyrus 
The text is a segment of the "Great Magical Papyrus of Paris", sandwiched between two sections of Homeric quotations. The Papyrus was acquired by the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1857. It most likely originally came from Thebes in Egypt. It can be dated on paleographical grounds to early fourth century, but the text presupposes a much longer process of development. The origin is most likely around 100-150, then it was used in a ritual context in an Egyptian Mithras Cult from 150-200. This is followed by a period of adaptation and development by magicians from 200-300. As it is now "the text is thoroughly Hellenistic-Egyptian without any traces of Christian, Christian-Gnostic, or Neo-Platonic influences, although traditions of Middle Stoicism are apparent, as is a certain closeness to Hermeticism"(9). The author was most likely an expert on magical materials and had expertise as a literary scholar and writer. He has examined several versions of the text and offers learned comments on it.


It was first coined as Mithras Liturgy by the german scholar Albrecht Dieterich. The Germans were always interested in these things and they are still interested in it even to this date. It was later translated into english by Hans Dieter Betz who also a german scholar. Here is an abstract pdf review of his book.  Hans Dieter Betz PDF.

Marvin Meyer - About Marvin Meyer who was interviewed in various TV channels like the National Geographic for the documentary of Gospel of Judas is a strong proponent of this view.
Marvin Meyer is certain that the text has connections to Mithraism and believes that it "contributes a great deal to the study of magic, miracle, and ritual in religions in antiquity and late antiquity, including Christianity, and the stories of miracles attributed to Jesus and others may profitably be studied with texts like the Mithras Liturgy at hand."
Marvin Meyer argues that "early Christianity ... in general, resembles Mithraism in a number of respects – enough to make Christian apologists scramble to invent creative theological explanations to account for the similarities".
So there is evidence that these varieties of Mithraism which were being practiced in Egypt and in the Greco-Roman religions had its roots in the orthodox Mithraism of the Iranians and of the Aryans of the far east.

Marvin Meyer has translated the text. Marvin Meyer's original Translation of Mithras Liturgy

As you can see the text of Mithras Liturgy appears from no where in between a section of Greek homeric writings about Zeus. The egyptian scholar seems to have had an habit of collecting religious rituals and clearly mentions about Helios-Mithras-Aion, the god to whom the text and the ritual is addressed to.

The ritual is about achieving immortality by ascension of the soul into different realms, an epiphany which is a common feature in orthodox Mithraism where Mithras appear to help the initiate to guide him into a safe passage to the highest pleroma of the supreme God and these similar experiences have been documented by the later gnostic traditions where the term Aeons appear instead of Mithras to guide them into a safe passage upto the pleroma of God. This is a common feature to be seen in the orthodox Mitraism of the Vedic period and is still very much alive up until this age.

Similar experiences of the ascent to heaven is claimed by Paul (Corinthians). Ascent to heaven by the Gnostic Paul

The text's immediate context is a magical handbook, but it "stands out like an intruder from another world" with no parallel in other magical papyri. The wider context is Hellenistic mystery cults. Not much Egyptian religion appears and there is no evidence of Neo-platonic influence. The philosophy, being Stoic, could indicate an origin in the milieu prior to Neo-platonism. The ritual of rebirth is based in processes of generation and regeneration. The cosmology is Greek in origin, not Egyptian. It seems to reflect a nascent Hermeticism of the first or second century, but it has not developed into Gnosticism.
Similar parallels can be seen in the works of a scholar from Bangalore named Devudu Narasimha Shastry(1920-1970's) who was well versed in these mystery religions and clearly describes the ascent of an initiate into higher realms. What is more interesting is that he too lived his life based on stoic principles and that confirms the stoic philosophy inherent in all varities of Mithraic religions.

The scholar seemed to have behaved with a calm mind even after hearing the news of his son's death which came through a letter while he was away with his wife for a religious program and on that particular day he seemed to have given the most outstanding speech of his life and later when his wife came to know about this she had fell down unconscious and the scholar didn't even attended his son's funeral.

The stoic philosophy is quite inherent in these religions.

Now these things do deserve explanations and challenges our accepted worldviews and these things are bothering me from quite some time. The ritual might look magical to us but to those who have understood its deeper meaning knows the rational importance of such rituals. A collaborative work is needed to reconstruct the practical knowledge of such rituals and I don't even know where to begin searching for it. These claims do suggest that a God hypothesis is an equally competing hypothesis to explain our origins in the cosmos, its not the job of scientists to figure out this, this is a completely different numinous world and has nothing do with science, its the job of theologians and theists and they need to scratch their heads. There is an equal possibility that religion might provide us with true immortality. There is lots of evidence for god and one can see how silly it is for one to demand empirical evidence for god when the very realm of god is non-empirical.

We have already lost a lot of knowledge and by suppressing such thinking we will lose it forever and New Atheists and people who directly attack faith have to address such things if they ever want to succeed in their campaign of intolerance towards religions.



Roger Pearse -About Roger Pearse
Roger Pearse is an interested amateur. He is involved in getting patristic texts online and in English, and in promoting interest in them. This includes oriental texts in Syriac, Coptic, Arabic and Armenian, all of which contain material no longer extant in Latin and Greek. But he doesn't actually read most of these languages! He is best known as the editor of the Tertullian Project website, and the Additional Fathers collection of English translations not found in the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection. He also writes a blog
From time to time he commissions translations of untranslated texts into English. These include various collections of gnomologia in Christian Arabic, as well as homilies of Origen, and works by Eusebius (the latter with remains in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and Arabic). He is also working himself on an English translation of the history of the Arabic Christian writer Agapius from French into English, translating some letters of Isidore of Pelusium (from Greek) and working on a machine-translator for patristic Greek to English. He would like to see Christian Arabic literature made much more accessible and much better known. He hates libraries that charge excessive sums for reproductions of unpublished manuscript material. If any of them will supply him with a reproduction of the unpublished Arabic Christian history of al-Makin, he might try to get bits of it translated.
            About his blog and his interests.


Roger Pearse replied to this post on some other website where I had posted the same thing and here is what he has to say about this.

Roger Pearse's reply - Roger Pearse's statements are in double quotes.

"I wonder if I might contribute here"

Me: According to Max Muller, the proto Indo-Iranian religion started of as sun worship and later branched into independent religions of the Persian god of Mithra and the vedic god of Mitra. Mithraism was one of the most popular religions of the roman imperialism along side Christianity and the origins of Mithraism in Rome is still disputed (See - Mithraic Mysteries and Mithraism and Christianity).

"I'm afraid that these Wikipedia pages are quite unreliable now. As you know, anyone can edit Wikipedia, and unfortunately some people abuse that privilege. I myself used to be the main contributor to these pages over a period of a couple of years, and I did most of the research for them. In the process I acquired a pretty deep familiarity with the scholarship, and with what looked scholarly but was in fact merely derivative from old and unreliable research. Unfortunately back in January 2011 a troll turned up at the article and, under two different false names, fought an edit war for months on end to seize control of them. He harassed all the real Mithras buffs off the article, and in cahoots with a corrupt administrator blocked those whom he could not intimidate. Of course he wasn't interested in Mithras -- as if! -- but he was quite sure that Mithras predated Jesus, and that Christianity borrowed from the cult of Mithras. So he edited them accordingly. To do so, he faked up extracts from old, inaccurate, or obsolete material found on the web into the format used for reliable material, deleted some of the latter and interlarded the articles with his rubbish. So ... a normal person just can't tell what's good and what isn't.

Let me offer a couple of comments, then.
Your source has suggested that Persian Mithra is or might be the same as Roman Mithras. Modern specialists don't believe this. The Romans did believe that the worship of Mithras was of Persian origin, but the archaeology is against it. Opinions changed among scholars after 1971, you see. The change was because the Roman cult of Mithras doesn't appear in the archaeology before around AD 100, nor in the literary sources before 80 AD (although it must have existed before, I suspect), and the archaeology all shows a cult fanning out from Rome. In the unknown genesis of the cult, it is of course entirely possible that the unknown inventor borrowed names for some of his deities from Greek texts which mentioned Zoroastrianism; but only the unwary suppose that two things called by the same (or similar) words are necessarily the same."


Me: What is Mithras Liturgy?

It was first coined as Mithras Liturgy by the german scholar Albrecht Dieterich. The Germans were always interested in these things and they are still interested in it even to this date. It was later translated into english by Hans Dieter Betz who also a german scholar. Here is an abstract pdf review of his book. Hans Dieter Betz - PDF.

Marvin Meyer - About Marvin Meyer who was interviewed in various TV channels like the National Geographic for the documentary Gospel of Judas is a strong proponent of this view.

So there is evidence that these varieties of Mithraism which were being practiced in Egypt and in the Greco-Roman religions had its roots in the orthodox Mithraism of the Iranians and of the Aryans in the far east.


"I think the translation printed by Betz was actually made by Marvin Meyer and reprinted by Betz when he organised the translation of further portions of the Great Magical Papyrus in which it is found. 
I'm afraid that nothing in the so-called Mithras liturgy -- whose dubious connection with Mithras you rightly identify -- justifies this last bit. Meyer is no Mithras scholar, and some of his statements about Mithras reflect obsolete or non-scholarly opinion. The text is a magical text, and these tend to be studded with names of gods as "power words". Indeed some of the material in the same papyrus used the name of the Jewish God in just this way, and even Jesus; but the texts are neither Jewish nor Christian. There is speculation that some of what appears in the Mithras liturgy might relate to some literary references; but the identity is far from certain."


Me: Marvin Meyer has translated the text. Marvin Meyer's original translation of Mithras Liturgy

As you can see the text of Mithras Liturgy appears from no where in between a section of Greek homeric writings about Zeus. The egyptian scholar seems to have had an habit of collecting religious rituals and clearly mentions about Helios-Mithras-Aion, the god to whom the text and the ritual is addressed to.

The ritual is about achieving immortality by ascending the soul into different realms, an epiphany which is a commom feature in orthodox Mithraism where Mithras appear to help the initiate to guide him into a safe passage to the highest pleroma of the supreme God and these similar experiences have been documented by the later gnostic traditions where the term Aeons appear instead of Mithras to guide them into a safe passage upto the pleroma of God. This is a common feature to be seen in the orthodox Mitraism of the vedic period and is still very much alive up until this age.


"These claims would all need to be referenced against primary sources. Are you sure that a soul travelling into a different realm can be legitimately described by the word "epiphany", by the way?

We need to remember how little is known about Mithras. The content of the mysteries of Mithras are just that today -- a mystery -- and whatever the cult taught its initiates today has to be inferred from very scanty remains indeed. The handbooks to which Porphyry refers have perished.

The idea of "orthodox Mithraism" sounds strange ... pagan cults did not do "orthodoxy". They weren't based on that kind of approach to religion, you know."


Me: Similar parallels can be seen in the works of a scholar from Bangalore named Devudu Narasimha Shastry(1920-1970's) who was well versed in these mystery religions and clearly describes the ascent of an initiate into higher realms. What is more interesting is that he too lived his life based on stoic principles and that confirms the stoic philosophy inherent in all varities of Mithraic religions.


"Erm, I wondered which ancient source records that the secret teachings of the Roman cult of Mithras were based on stoicism?

I don't know who this Shastry was, but he was not a Mithras scholar.

Do be aware that there is a great deal of misinformation around on the web, and indeed even in books written by scholars whose specialism is not Mithras. This occurs because the founder of Mithraic Studies, the great Franz Cumont, was misled by the literary sources to suppose the identity of Mitra and Mithras, and filled up the gaps in his theory of how the Mithras cult was with imagination. This was pardonable in the work he was doing, because he was trying to create the whole field by synthesising the data. But his work was popularised in a bad English translation stripped of most of his scholarly content, and it has given rise to a great deal of hearsay, which is not based on any actual evidence. Always ask to see the primary source for these sorts of claims. It's so bad that I no longer take any claim not so referenced seriously, and nor should you. 
All the best,
Roger Pearse"



My Reply -

"I wonder if I might contribute here?"


Thanks for taking your time to contribute to this thread. I am not claiming to show that Roman Mithraism was the same as Persian Mithraism, The Mithras of the romans might be of a separate origin altogether and it is very much likely that it was but that was not the main aim of this thread. I have read the Marvin Meyer's translations of Mithras Liturgy and I have also read the Mitra tradition of the Vedic period and there are strong similarities between them.

1. In both of those un-parallel traditions the ascent to heaven is used to achieve immortality.

2. Both of those traditions clearly mentions about the gate keepers and the apparent difficulty in having a safe passage to their final destination to the ultimate pleroma of God. The initiate is guided by Mithraic/Mitraic gods so that he may have a safe passage.

3. Both are worshiping the Sun God (There is no doubt that the vedic Mitraic tradition was purely based on sun worship and in the Mithras Liturgy the egyptian initiate clearly mentions about the sun god "Helios-Mithras-Aion" and the religious experience described in the process of acsending to heaven is very much similar to the followers of Vedic Mitraic traditions).

One can find the translations of Marvin Meyer here - > Marvin Meyer's original Translations of Mithras Liturgy

One can find the descriptions of ascent to heaven in the vedic Mithraic tradition in this book - > MahaDarshana - Goodreads

I have tried to buy an english translation of that book but they say that the publishers still haven't released the english version of that book, otherwise I would have quoted that particular passage here. Devudu Shastry was not a scholar of Roman Mithraism, he was a scholar of Vedic Mithraic tradition. You won't find much info about him over the internet. There are things which Google can't find you.

In fact this gives support to my case that disconnected people following different traditions across different cultures are describing the same things giving rational interpretations. My sources are well referenced and its official as to this particular sub-topic is concerned.

Let me clarify some of the things on what is commonly accepted and what is still under dispute.

         Wikipedia -
According to Max Muller, the proto Indo-Iranian religion started of as sun worship and later branched into independent religions of the Persian god of Mithra and the Vedic god of Mitra.                                                                                                            
I think everyone agree with Max Muller here, the proto Indo-Iranian religion was clearly a Sun worshiping religion. There is no dispute here. The characteristics of the Persian God of Mithra and the Vedic God of Mitra is very much identical. He represents friendship, witness to a political treaty, righteousness etc etc.

"I'm afraid that these Wikipedia pages are quite unreliable now. As you know, anyone can edit Wikipedia, and unfortunately some people abuse that privilege. I myself used to be the main contributor to these pages over a period of a couple of years, and I did most of the research for them. In the process I acquired a pretty deep familiarity with the scholarship, and with what looked scholarly but was in fact merely derivative from old and unreliable research. Unfortunately back in January 2011 a troll turned up at the article and, under two different false names, fought an edit war for months on end to seize control of them. He harassed all the real Mithras buffs off the article, and in cahoots with a corrupt administrator blocked those whom he could not intimidate. Of course he wasn't interested in Mithras -- as if! -- but he was quite sure that Mithras predated Jesus, and that Christianity borrowed from the cult of Mithras. So he edited them accordingly. To do so, he faked up extracts from old, inaccurate, or obsolete material found on the web into the format used for reliable material, deleted some of the latter and interlarded the articles with his rubbish. So ... a normal person just can't tell what's good and what isn't."
If Roman Mithraism originated from the Persian Mithraism then the Mithras of Rome has an history of atleast 3000 years behind it.

If Roman Mithraism was purely a roman invention or discovery then the claim of "Mithras predated Jesus" is questionable.

I have read that the apostle to the gentiles, Saint Paul was worshiping Mithras before his conversion to Christianity and they said that he thought Mithras was Jesus. I am not sure about the credibility of that source and its entirely irrelevant to the main aim of this thread. What I am interested is in the religious experience of the ascent to heaven by Paul himself.

"Let me offer a couple of comments, then.
Your source has suggested that Persian Mithra is or might be the same as Roman Mithras. Modern specialists don't believe this. The Romans did believe that the worship of Mithras was of Persian origin, but the archaeology is against it. Opinions changed among scholars after 1971, you see. The change was because the Roman cult of Mithras doesn't appear in the archaeology before around AD 100, nor in the literary sources before 80 AD (although it must have existed before, I suspect), and the archaeology all shows a cult fanning out from Rome. In the unknown genesis of the cult, it is of course entirely possible that the unknown inventor borrowed names for some of his deities from Greek texts which mentioned Zoroastrianism; but only the unwary suppose that two things called by the same (or similar) words are necessarily the same."
Yes, I said that the origin of Roman Mithras from Persian Mithraism is still under dispute and many have different opinions to it. However as Max Muller has said the Persian Mithra and the Vedic Mitra were derived from the same proto god and we can pretty much agree on this.
"I think the translation printed by Betz was actually made by Marvin Meyer and reprinted by Betz when he organised the translation of further portions of the Great Magical Papyrus in which it is found. 
I'm afraid that nothing in the so-called Mithras liturgy -- whose dubious connection with Mithras you rightly identify -- justifies this last bit. Meyer is no Mithras scholar, and some of his statements about Mithras reflect obsolete or non-scholarly opinion. The text is a magical text, and these tend to be studded with names of gods as "power words". Indeed some of the material in the same papyrus used the name of the Jewish God in just this way, and even Jesus; but the texts are neither Jewish nor Christian. There is speculation that some of what appears in the Mithras liturgy might relate to some literary references; but the identity is far from certain."

The connection of Mithras Liturgy with the Roman Mithras might be dubious but when you look at the similarities of Mithras Liturgy with the proto Indo-Iranian religion one is forced to conclude that both Mithras Liturgy and the latter were worshiping the same Sun God.

Mithras Liturgy predates Neoplatonism and Gnosticism and they were developed much later according to this source -> A review of Mithras Liturgy. As you have said it has no connection with gnosticism or the Jewish God or even with Christianity. I didn't made that claim it was Marvin Meyer who said that the Roman Mithras has connections with Christianity.

But it might have influenced later Gnosticism. Even in Gnosticism which came at a later time, there is mention of Aeons guiding the initiate to have a safe passage to the ultimate Pleroma of the God and they teach that Jesus is one of the Aeons.

There is so much similarity between the Platonic realism of Plato and the Mithraism of the far-east of Indo-Iranians. Mithraic traditions support that Plato was right in his claim of existence of forms in a separate Platonic realm and the way we access this platonic realm is still a mystery but Mithraic traditions have observed the platonic realm and also the human mind. Plato didn't knew about Mithraism and neither the Mithraic traditions knew about Plato's works and yet they conclude the same thing giving rational explanations. These things indeed need explanations.
"These claims would all need to be referenced against primary sources. Are you sure that a soul travelling into a different realm can be legitimately described by the word "epiphany", by the way?"
Religious experiences are ineffable. Both Paul and the Indo Mithraic traditions say that it is way better for one to experience it oneself rather than trying to understand it through language. I wish I could translate that passage for you but I don't get clear words to clearly transfer the meaning from my mother language to English and things can get misrepresented. It is better to read it from the primary source as I given in the link above.
"We need to remember how little is known about Mithras. The content of the mysteries of Mithras are just that today -- a mystery -- and whatever the cult taught its initiates today has to be inferred from very scanty remains indeed. The handbooks to which Porphyry refers have perished."
There is very little that we know about the Roman Mithras and so is the same for the proto Indo-Iranian Mithraism but since the latter were well organized, we do have a lot of information about them and it provides a good enough source to study the Mithras Liturgy.
"The idea of "orthodox Mithraism" sounds strange ... pagan cults did not do "orthodoxy". They weren't based on that kind of approach to religion, you know."
The proto Indo-Iranian Mithraism should be considered as orthodox Mithraism, they were well organized in the ancient times, of course it has been lost as we moved on to the modern age and both the nation's religion has transformed quite a lot. But the Indo-Iranian Mithraism was not borrowed from any other sources. Now if there is indeed a connection between the Mithras Liturgy and the Persian Mithra then these varieties of Mithraism would make Persian Mithraism as the orthodox Mithraism.
"Erm, I wondered which ancient source records that the secret teachings of the Roman cult of Mithras were based on stoicism?"
The Mithras Liturgy is based on stoic philosophy and so is the proto Indo Mithraic religion, both are based on Sun worship. As far as the Roman cult of Mithras is concerned we need to study their way of life and what they were doing in their underground temples.
"I don't know who this Shastry was, but he was not a Mithras scholar."
As I said earlier, he was not a scholar of the Roman Mithras, he was a scholar of the Vedic Mitraic tradition.
"Do be aware that there is a great deal of misinformation around on the web, and indeed even in books written by scholars whose specialism is not Mithras. This occurs because the founder of Mithraic Studies, the great Franz Cumont, was misled by the literary sources to suppose the identity of Mitra and Mithras, and filled up the gaps in his theory of how the Mithras cult was with imagination. This was pardonable in the work he was doing, because he was trying to create the whole field by synthesising the data. But his work was popularised in a bad English translation stripped of most of his scholarly content, and it has given rise to a great deal of hearsay, which is not based on any actual evidence. Always ask to see the primary source for these sorts of claims. It's so bad that I no longer take any claim not so referenced seriously, and nor should you.

All the best,
Roger Pearse"
I have spent considerable amount of time researching this and I am not interested in the issue of the connection of Jesus with Mithras, it seems very likely that Roman Mithraism seems to have been invented rather than derived from the Persian Mithraism. You're coming from the view of Roman Mithras but that's not the only source which I used to build my case on. I am looking at Mithras Liturgy from the angle of orthodox proto Indo-Iranian Mithraic religion itself. When seen from such an angle with credible sources it does compels me to take Mithras Liturgy seriously.