Interview with the authors of The Jesus Mysteries

© HarperCollins 1999

Timothy Freke has an honours degree in philosophy from Bristol University and is an authority on world mysticism. He has written over twenty books about various spiritual traditions. Peter Gandy has an MA in Classical Civilization from the University of London. As well as The Jesus Mysteries (Thorsons 1999) they have co-authored three previous books.

 Ten questions and answers about The Jesus Mysteries.

Q1. How did you first become interested in this area and embark on the journey of discovery that lies behind The Jesus Mysteries?

We have been obsessed with the deeper mysteries of life since we first met each other as teenagers. More recently this has led to us working on a number of books together: The Complete Guide to World Mysticism (Piatkus 1997), The Hermetica - the Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs (Piatkus 1997) and The Wisdom of the Pagan Philosophers (Godsfield Press 1998). We were researching an idea for a book on the true nature of ancient Paganism when the similarities between the Jesus story and Pagan myths began to strike us. At the same time we were also researching a book on the early Christians known as Gnostics. We found that the Gnostics were actually little different from Pagans and began to wonder if Christianity could possibly have evolved from Paganism. It seemed like outrageous speculation at the time, but we decided to drop the idea of writing two books - one on the Pagans and one on the Gnostics - and instead explore the connection between Paganism and Christianity. What we discovered shocked us profoundly, as we expect it will many of our readers!

Q2. Could you, for the benefit of those who have not yet come across the book, give a brief outline of your extraordinary discoveries?

During the centuries leading up to the birth of Christianity various cults known as ŚMystery Religionsą had spread throughout the Pagan world. At the centre of these Mystery cults was a story about a dying and resurrecting godman who was known by many different names in many different cultures. In Egypt, where the Mysteries originated, he was known as Osiris, in Greece as Dionysus, in Asia Minor as Attis, in Syria as Adonis, in Italy as Bacchus, in Persia as Mithras. The more we discovered about this figure, the more his story began to sound uncannily familiar.
Here are just a few of the stories that were told about the godman of the Mysteries. His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin. He is born in a cave or humble cow shed on the 25th of December 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 honour him. He dies at Easter time 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.
On the basis of this and much other evidence we now believe that the story of Jesus is not the biography of an historical Messiah, but a myth derived from the Pagan Mysteries. The original Christians, the Gnostics, were Jewish mystics who synthesized the Jewish myth of the Messiah with the myth of the Pagan godman in order to make Pagan mysticism easily accessible to Jews. The origin of Christianity is not to be found in Judaism, as previously supposed, but in Paganism. Ironic don't you think?

Q3. Is our instinctive interpretation of the word 'Pagan' today often grossly unrealistic and, if so, could you tell us a little bit more about what the word 'Pagan' actually means for you?

ŚPaganą is actually a term of abuse meaning Ścountry-dweller' used by early Christians to denigrate ancient spirituality. There were many different forms of Paganism, just as there are many cults in Hinduism and sects of Christianity. Most people associate Paganism with either rustic witchcraft or the myths of the gods of Olympus as recorded by Hesiod and Homer. Pagan spirituality did indeed embrace both. The country people practiced their traditional shamanic nature worship to maintain the fertility of the land, and the city authorities propped up formal state religions, such as the worship of the Olympian gods, to maintain the power of the status quo.
It was, however, a third expression of the Pagan spirit - the Mysteries - which, although less well known today, dominated the ancient world. The thinkers, artists and innovators of antiquity were all initiates of the ŚMysteriesą. Unlike the traditional rituals of the official state religions that were designed to aid social cohesion, the Mysteries were an individualistic form of spirituality that offered mystical visions and personal enlightenment. Initiates underwent a secret process of initiation that profoundly transformed their state of consciousness. At the heart of the Mysteries was the myth of a dying and resurrecting godman, which contains all the same elements which later appear in the so-called biography of Jesus.

Q4.You describe clearly in The Jesus Mysteries many links between pagan tales and the Jesus story and ask the question 'why are these remarkable similarities not common knowledge?' Why aren't they?

The similarities between Pagan myths and the Jesus story may be a revelation to us today, but at the time they were common knowledge. Many Pagans claimed that the Christians had simply plagiarized the Mysteries. The original Gnostic Christians also acknowledged the similarities between the Jesus story and the myths of the Pagan godman.
However, later Christians, who saw Paganism as the enemy, found the similarities very embarrassing. They explained them as the work of the devil who, knowing that Jesus was going to come and live out this story, created the Pagan myths in advance to confuse people and stop them believing in Jesus. What an idea!  
When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, it did all in its power to destroy Paganism and eradicate any memory of the myth of the Pagan godman. Books were thrown onto bonfires, temples destroyed and Pagans and Śhereticalą Christians were murdered or banished. It is only in this century that scholars have been able to piece together the truth. The Jesus Mysteries is the fruit of their painstaking research.

Q5. The quantity of research and investigation that lies behind is phenomenal. How did you go about this work - and did it ever seem almost too daunting at times?

We did indeed undertake an enormous amount of research for The Jesus Mysteries - looking at both ancient manuscripts and the work of modern scholars. It never felt Śdaunting', however, because we were convinced we were on to something spectacular. Although, in all honesty, we never dreamed when we started our research that we would unearth so much extraordinary evidence!
In fact we had so many Ślucky' breaks that it began to feel as if the universe itself wanted this story told. The amazing talisman showing the crucified Pagan godman that we use as the cover of the book, for example, was found by Peter one day whilst he was browsing through the appendixes to an obscure academic book! We found it right at the end of our research and it was a powerful confirmation of our ideas. Another example is the beautiful picture of the miraculous child Dionysus looking just like the baby Jesus, which we include in the book. Tim stumbled on this whilst visiting an archaeological site in Cyprus.

Q6. Were you yourselves amazed by your findings or did you have fairly clear expectations about what you'd find?

The Jesus Mysteries reads somewhat like an exciting detective story, but this is not just a literary device. While researching the book we were constantly amazed at what we were uncovering. We began by drawing on the work of scholars from many different disciplines, surrounding ourselves with the latest journals and books on early Judaism, the Classics, early Christianity, Egyptology and a whole lot more. When we began to put all this material together the true origins of Christianity became startlingly obvious. We believe that it is only the lack of inter-disciplinary scholarship that has delayed the presentation of a thesis like The Jesus Mysteries until the late 20th century. Visionary scholars of the last century, we discovered, had made similar conjectures to ourselves, but without the necessary data to confirm their suspicions.
Probably the most exciting moment came when we discovered the talisman that we have used as the cover of the book. The crucified figure may look like Jesus, but the Greek inscription states that it is actually the dying and resurrecting godman of the Pagan Mysteries. That Pagan myths had portrayed the godman as meeting his death by crucifixion was a truly astonishing discovery.

Q7. 'In antiquity the word mythos did not mean something 'untrue' as it does for us today.' Is this another paradox in Christianity - that 'faith' after all is not enough? Instead we have needed 'truth' so much in order to believe, that we have actually created it for ourselves?

For the Pagan philosophers and the early Christians, faith was the first step towards Gnosis - or Knowledge of the Truth. We argue in the book that modern Christianity has lost the secret Inner Mysteries of the original Christians, which led from faith to Knowledge. It only has the Outer Mysteries of faith. It teaches that what matters is that we believe in the historical existence of Jesus. Because there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus this becomes a matter of blind belief. But we feel this whole approach to Christianity completely misses the point. Original Christianity was not about being a ŚChristian' but becoming a ŚChrist' through understanding the secret teachings encoded in the Jesus myth.

Q8. Is the problem with institutionalized religion that it narrows our consciousness, rather than encouraging us to explore more deeply into mystical teaching?

Organized religion is often concerned only with upholding and justifying the status quo. This is ironic as religions are often begun by mystics who are vehement critics of institutional religion. As we chronicle in The Jesus Mysteries, the original message of Christianity was one of personal liberation and salvation. But when Christianity was adopted as the one religion of the Roman Empire it was turned into a message of terror and intimidation. Bringing the church and the state into alliance was fatal. Despotic rulers, such as the first Christian emperor Constantine, were able to claim that God sanctioned their absolute power. Freethinkers and mystics were called heretics and persecuted out of existence. As a result the Roman Empire collapsed and Western civilization sunk into the thousand years we appropriately know as ŚThe Dark Ages'. Only now, as we approach the end of the 20th century, is there a climate in which people can explore spirituality without fear of the authorities.

Q9. What implications do have for Christianity today - and, ultimately, how much does it matter whether or not a religion is founded on fact?
After reading our book, the Right Rev. John Shelby Spong, Bishop of Newark and author of Why Christianity must Change or Die, wrote to us with the following: 
'The Jesus Mysteries is a provocative, exciting and challenging book. Its great contribution will be to destabilize the inadequate literalism which has captured the New Testament in the minds of so many Christian people. It will also force Christians to recognize that what we call orthodoxy is not orthodoxy because it is right but because it won! Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy will force a new debate in Christian circles for which the Church ultimately will be grateful.' 
This is what we are hoping to do - force a debate. Who knows what the outcome of such a re-evaluation of Christianity will be? We'd like to think that it may be possible for Christianity to rediscover its mystical Inner Mysteries that we believe it has lost.
We demonstrate in the book that, like the myths of the Pagan Mysteries, the Jesus story was a mystical code designed to be explained by an enlightened teacher when the seeker was spiritually ripe. These Inner Mysteries imparted a mystical Knowledge of God beyond mere belief in dogmas. Although many inspired Christian mystics throughout history have intuitively seen through to this deeper symbolic level of understanding, as a culture we have inherited only the Outer Mysteries of Christianity. We have kept the form, but lost the inner meaning. Our hope is that The Jesus Mysteries can play some small part in reclaiming the true mystical Christian inheritance.
To us, all forms of spirituality are different paths up the same mountain of Truth. What prevents many Christians seeing this is that they believe that Jesus was an historical figure who was the one and only Son of God. Our hope is that, if Christians can see that the Jesus story is actually another version of a perennial myth, they may be able to stop viewing their spiritual tradition as in opposition to Paganism and indeed all other forms of spirituality.

Q10. What is your hope for people's response once they have read? Because although the book could profoundly shake someone's world, would you agree that, ultimately, it offers a more positive way forward.
The therapeutic process always begins with an investigation of the past. For most people, present problems arise out of past trauma, and the same is true of cultures. The West has a terrible history of intolerance and religious bigotry. The supposed uniqueness of Christianity has been used as an excuse to attack other races and nations - for their own good of course - in order to lead them to the truth. Only by confronting and dealing with this past will the West be able to go confidently into the future.
Undoubtedly those who have believed the history handed down to them about the origins of Christianity will be shocked to discover that they have been deliberately lied to. Those who believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God might also be dismayed to read about the political process that led to the forging of many of the books in the New Testament - and the brutal eradication of those that told a different story. And those Christians who base their faith on the existence of an historical Jesus will be confronted by the fact that there is no evidence at all for this belief.
But we do not have some sort of anti-Christian agenda. Far from it. Those who have read our other works will know that our concern is not with further divisions, but to recover the mystical tradition that lies at the heart of all religions.

© HarperCollins 1999



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