By Tim Freke & Peter Gandy
Is the Jesus story an accumulation of pagan religions? For some readers this initial premise seems so farfetched they would dismiss it out of hand. Pagan religions have long been associated with superstitions, primitive beliefs, idol worship and bloody sacrifices, while the Jesus story has been assumed to be based on the unique biography of a historical messiah. But Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in The Jesus Mysteries dispel the myth that Pagan religions were backward and primitive, and show the startling similarities between Paganism and the origins of Christianity.
Freke and Gandy contend that Pagan spirituality was the product of a highly developed culture with an interest in esoteric inner mysteries. Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, the pyramid builders, Gnostics and the Mithrasians were just some of the people inspired by the esoteric mysteries posited by Pagan beliefs. These Pagan beliefs included reincarnation, gnosis or direct experiential knowledge of God, and belief in a dying and resurrecting godman, known by different names in different cultures.
The authors of The Jesus Mysteries show the startling parallels between motifs of Pagan mythology and Christianity, asserting that the former become grafted onto the biography of Jesus, just as Pagan festivals were adopted as Christian saints' days.
A few of the many examples of similarities between the pagan godman Osiris-Dionysus and Jesus were: both were born of a mortal virgin; the birth is prophesied by a star; both practiced ritual baptism; both were crucified and resurrected; and both offer disciples the chance to be born again by symbolically 'dying' to their lower earthly nature.
These similarities between Pagan beliefs and Christianity were threatening to the early Roman Catholic Church, which undertook a concerted effort to eradicate any apparent link between the two faiths. This eradication was only partly successful as modern archaeological finds, for example the Gnostic gospels discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945, have revealed persuasive supporting evidence for the Pagan origins of Christianity.
The Jesus Mysteries is a powerful book which successfully challenges the history of Christianity bequeathed to us by the Roman Church. Already this book has started to have an impact and this is understandable. The historical evidence for the similarities between Christianity and Paganism is so clear and compelling that it is impossible to dismiss it or remain unimpressed. Freke and Gandy have included hundreds of sources and references for readers who wish to analyse their arguments in more detail.
Freke and Gandy has eschewed dry academic language and presented their reappraisal of Christianity in an accessible style. The result is a book which is a real page-turner. The reader is taken on a journey through the historical evidence, learning about pagan influence on the story of Jesus, the clash between mystically inspired Gnostics and the Literalist church, a search through the records for evidence of a historical Jesus, and Paul's interpretation of Christianity. This journey through the evidence is both challenging and exciting. Needless to say, the effect of this book on theological scholarship will be considerable. The Jesus Mysteries is too well researched and controversial to be ignored so I predict it will provoke discussion and debate for many years to come.
- Fiona Willson
New Dawn Magazine