Timothy Freke has a honours degree in philosophy and is an authority on world spirituality and the author of more than twenty books. Peter Gandy has an MA in Classical Civilisation. For more information about the authors, their books, lectures and seminars, visit www.jesusmysteries.demon.co.uk
On the site where the Vatican now stands, there once stood a Pagan temple.Here Pagan priests observed sacred ceremonies which early Christians found so disturbing that they tried to erase all evidence of them ever having been practised. What were these shocking Pagan rites? Gruesome sacrifices or obscene orgies perhaps? This is what we have been led to believe. But the truth is far stranger than this fiction.
Where today the gathered faithful revere their Lord Jesus Christ, the ancients worshipped another godman who, like Jesus, had been miraculously born on the 25th of December before three shepherds. In this ancient sanctuary Pagan congregations once glorified a Pagan redeemer who, like Jesus, was said to have ascended to heaven, and to have promised to come again at the end of time to judge the quick and the dead. On the same spot where the Pope celebrates the Catholic mass, Pagan priests had also celebrated a symbolic meal of bread and wine in memory of their saviour who, just like Jesus, had declared
He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him the same shall not know salvation.
When we began to uncover such extraordinary similarities between the story of Jesus and Pagan myth we were stunned. We had been brought up in a culture which portrays Paganism and Christianity as entirely antagonistic religious perspectives. How could such astonishing resemblances be explained? We were intrigued and began to search further. The more we looked, the more resemblances we found. To account for the wealth of evidence we were unearthing we felt compelled to completely review our understanding of the relationship between Paganism and Christianity; to question beliefs that we previously regarded as unquestionable and imagine possibilities which at first seemed impossible.
Our conclusion is that the story of Jesus is not the biography of an historical Messiah, but a myth based on perennial Pagan stories. Christianity was not a new and unique revelation but is actually a Jewish adaptation of the ancient Pagan Mystery religion. This is what we have called the ‘Jesus Mysteries Thesis’. It may sound farfetched at first, just as it did initially to us. There is, after all, a great deal of unsubstantiated nonsense written about the ‘real’ Jesus, so any revolutionary theory should be approached with a healthy dose of scepticism. But, although this book makes sensational claims, it is not just fanciful speculation. It is firmly based upon years of meticulous scholarly research and in our book we provide extensive references so that people can check our sources for themselves.
The Pagan Mysteries
During the centuries leading up to the birth of Christianity, the Pagan Mystery religion, often known simply as the ‘Mysteries’, had spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Many of the greatest figures of the Pagan world were initiated into these Mysteries, and regarded them as the very source of civilisation. Each Mystery tradition had exoteric Outer Mysteries, consisting of myths which were common knowledge, and rituals which were open to anyone who wanted to participate. There were also esoteric Inner Mysteries, however, which were a sacred secret only known to those who had undergone a powerful process of initiation. Initiates of the Inner Mysteries had the mystical meaning of the rituals and myths of the Outer Mysteries revealed to them, bringing about personal transformation and spiritual enlightenment.
At the heart of the Mysteries were myths concerning a dying and resurrecting godman, who was known by many different names. In Egypt 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. Fundamentally all these godmen are the same mythical being, who the ancients called ‘Osiris-Dionysus’. As we studied these myths, it became obvious that the story of Jesus had all the characteristics of another version of the same perennial tale. Event by event, we found we were able to construct the Jesus story from mythic motifs previously relating to Osiris-Dionysus.
- Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh; the saviour and ‘Son of God’
- 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 symbolise his body and blood.
These are just some of the mythic motifs the tales of Osiris-Dionysus share in common with the supposed ‘biography’ of Jesus. Why are these remarkable similarities not common knowledge? Because, as we were to discover later, the early Roman Church did everything in its power to prevent us perceiving them. It systematically destroyed Pagan sacred literature in a brutal programme of eradicating the Mysteries – a task it performed so completely that today Paganism is regarded as a ‘dead’ religion.
Although surprising to us today, to writers of the first few centuries these similarities between the new Christian religion and the ancient Mysteries were extremely obvious. Pagan critics of Christianity, such the satirist Celsus, complained that this recent religion was nothing more than a pale reflection of their own ancient teachings. Early ‘church fathers’, such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus, were understandably disturbed and resorted to the desperate claim that these similarities were the result of ‘diabolical mimicry’. Using one of the most absurd arguments ever advanced, they accused the Devil of ‘plagiarism by anticipation’; of deviously copying the true story of Jesus before it had actually happened in an attempt to mislead the gullible! These church fathers struck us as no less devious than the Devil they hoped to incriminate.
The obvious explanation was that, as early Christianity became the dominant power in the previously Pagan world, popular motifs from Pagan mythology had become grafted onto the biography of Jesus. However, to us this explanation seemed inadequate. We had collated such a comprehensive body of similarities that there remained no significant elements in the biography of Jesus that we did not find prefigured by the Mysteries. On top of this, we discovered that even Jesus’ teachings were not original, but had been taught by the sages of the Pagan Mysteries for centuries! If there was a ‘real’ Jesus somewhere underneath all of this, we would have to acknowledge that we could know absolutely nothing about him, for all that remained for us was later Pagan accretions! Such a position seemed absurd. Surely there was a more elegant solution to this conundrum?
Whilst we were puzzling over these discoveries, we began to question the received picture of the early church, and have a look at the evidence for ourselves. We discovered that far from being the united church of saints and martyrs that the traditional history would have us believe, the early Christian community was actually made up of a whole spectrum of different groups. These can be broadly categorised into two different schools. On the one hand there were those who we call ‘Literalists’, because what defines them is that they take the Jesus story as a literal account of historical events. It was this school of Christianity that was adopted by the Roman empire in the 4th century CE, becoming Roman Catholicism and all the subsequent offshoots from it. On the other hand, however, there were also radically different Christians known as ‘Gnostics’.
These forgotten Christians were later persecuted out of existence by the Literalist Roman Church with such thoroughness that until recently we knew little about the Gnostics except through the writings of their detractors. Only a handful of original Gnostic texts survived, none of which were published before the nineteenth century. This situation changed dramatically however, with a remarkable discovery in 1945 when an Arab peasant stumbled upon a whole library of Gnostic gospels hidden in a cave near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. This gave scholars access to many texts which were in wide circulation amongst early Christians, but which were deliberately excluded from the canon of the New Testament when it was created – gospels attributed to Thomas and Philip, texts recording the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Disciples, Apocalypses written by Paul and James, and so on.
To Literalists, the Gnostics were dangerous heretics. They wrote volumes of anti-Gnostic works, which is an unintentional testimony to the power and influence of Gnosticism within early Christianity. The Gnostics were painted as Christians who had ‘gone native’. They had become contaminated by the Paganism that surrounded them and abandoned the purity of the true faith. The Gnostics, on the other hand, saw themselves as the authentic Christian tradition and the orthodox bishops as an “imitation church”. They claimed to know the secret Inner Mysteries of Christianity which the Literalists did not possess.
As we explored the beliefs and practises of the Gnostics we became convinced that the Literalists had at least been right about one thing. The Gnostics were little different from Pagans. Like the philosophers of the Pagan Mysteries, the Gnostics believed in reincarnation, honoured the goddess Sophia, and were immersed in the mystical Greek philosophy of Plato. ‘Gnostics’ means ‘Knowers’, a name they acquired because, like the initiates of the Pagan Mysteries, they believed that their secret teachings had the power to impart ‘Gnosis’- direct experiential Knowledge of God. Just as the goal of a Pagan initiate was to become a god, so for the Gnostics the goal of the Christian initiate was to become a Christ.
What particularly struck us was that the Gnostics were not concerned with the historical Jesus. They viewed the Jesus story in the same way that the Pagan philosophers viewed the myths of Osiris-Dionysus – as an allegory which encoded secret mystical teachings. This insight crystallised for us a remarkable possibility. Perhaps the explanation for the similarities between Pagan myths and the biography of Jesus had been staring us in the face the whole time, but we had been so caught up with traditional ways of thinking that we had been unable to see it.
The Jesus Mysteries Thesis
The traditional version of history bequeathed to us by the authorities of the Roman Church is that Christianity developed from the teachings of a Jewish Messiah and that Gnosticism was a later deviation. What would happen, we wondered, if the picture was reversed and Gnosticism viewed as the authentic Christianity, just as the Gnostics themselves claimed? Could it be that orthodox Christianity was a later deviation from Gnosticism, and that Gnosticism was a synthesis of Judaism and the Pagan Mystery religion? This was the beginning of the Jesus Mysteries Thesis.
Boldly stated, the picture that emerged for us was as follows. We knew that most ancient Mediterranean cultures had adopted the ancient Mysteries, adapting them to their own national tastes and creating their own version of the myth of the dying and resurrecting godman. Perhaps some of the Jews had, likewise, adopted the Pagan Mysteries and created their own Jewish version of the Mysteries which we now know of as Gnosticism? Perhaps initiates of the Jewish Mysteries adapted the potent symbolism of the Osiris-Dionysus myths into a myth of their own, the hero of which was the Jewish dying and resurrecting godman Jesus?
If this was so, then the Jesus story was not a biography at all but a consciously crafted vehicle for encoded spiritual teachings created by Jewish Gnostics. As in the Pagan Mysteries, initiation into the Inner Mysteries would reveal the myth’s allegorical meaning. Perhaps those uninitiated into the Inner Mysteries had mistakenly come to regard the Jesus myth as historical fact and Literalist Christianity had been created? The Inner Mysteries of Christianity which the Gnostics taught but which the Literalists denied existed, revealed that the Jesus story was actually a mystical teaching story designed to help each one of us become a Christ.
The Jesus story has all the hallmarks of a myth, so perhaps that is exactly what it is? After all, no one has read the newly discovered Gnostic gospels and taken their fantastic stories as literally true. They are readily seen as myths. It is only familiarity and cultural prejudice which prevents us seeing the New Testament gospels in the same light. If these gospels had also been lost to us and only recently discovered, who would read these tales for the first time and believe they were historical accounts of a man born of a virgin, who had walked on water and returned from the dead? Why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras and the other Pagan Mystery saviours as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem?
The Jesus Mysteries Thesis answered many puzzling questions, yet it also opened up new dilemmas. Isn’t there indisputable historical evidence for the existence of Jesus the man? And how could Gnosticism be the original Christianity when St. Paul, the earliest Christian we know about, is so vociferously anti-Gnostic? And is it really credible to believe that such an insular and anti-Pagan nation as the Jews could have adopted the Pagan Mysteries? And how could it have happened that a consciously created myth came to be believed as history? And if Gnosticism represents genuine Christianity why was it Literalist Christianity that came to dominate the world as the most influential religion of all time? All of these difficult questions would have to be satisfactorily answered before we could wholeheartedly accept such a radical theory as the Jesus Mysteries Thesis.
The Great Cover Up
Our new account of the origins of Christianity only seemed improbable because it contradicted the received view. As we pushed further with our research, however, the traditional picture began to completely unravel all around us. We found ourselves embroiled in a world of schism and power struggles; of forged documents and false identities; of letters that had been edited and added to; and of the wholesale destruction of historical evidence. Time and again, when we critically examined what genuine evidence there is for ourselves, we found that the history of Christianity bequeathed to us by the Roman church was a gross distortion of the truth. Actually the evidence completely endorsed the Jesus Mysteries Thesis! It was becoming increasingly obvious that we had been deliberately deceived.
We focused ourselves forensically on the few facts we could be confident of, as if we were detectives on the verge of cracking a sensational ‘who-dun-it’; or perhaps more accurately as if we were uncovering an ancient and unacknowledged miscarriage of justice. We were becoming convinced that the Gnostics were indeed the original Christians whose anarchic mysticism had been hijacked by an authoritarian institution which had created from it a dogmatic religion – and then brutally enforced the greatest cover-up in history.
One of the major players in this cover-up operation was a character called Eusebius who, at the beginning of the 4th century, compiled from legends, fabrications, and his own imagination the only early history of the origins of Christianitythat still exists today. All subsequent histories have been forced to base themselves on his dubious claims, because there has been little other information to draw on. All those with a different perspective on Christianity were branded as heretics and eradicated. In this way falsehoods compiled in the 4th century have come down to us as established facts.
Eusebius was employed by the Roman emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion of the Empire. It was Constantine who gave Literalist Christianity the power it needed to begin the final eradication of Paganism and Gnosticism. Constantine wanted ‘one God, one Religion’ to consolidate his claim of ‘one empire, one emperor’. He oversaw the creation of the Nicene creed – the article of faith repeated in churches to this day – and Christians who refused to assent to this creed were banished from the empire or otherwise silenced.
This ‘Christian’ emperor then returned home from Nicaea and had his wife suffocated and his son murdered. He deliberately remained unbaptised until his deathbed so that he could continue his atrocities, and still receive forgiveness of sins and a guaranteed place in heaven at the last moment. Although he had his propaganda man Eusebius compose a suitably obsequious biography for him, Constantine was actually a monster – just like many Roman emperors before him. Is it really at all surprising that a ‘history’ of the origins of Christianity created by an employee in the service of a Roman tyrant should turn out to be a pack of lies?
Recovering Mystical Christianity
Whilst the Jesus Mysteries Thesis clearly rewrites history, we do not see it as undermining the Christian faith, but as suggesting that Christianity is in fact richer than we previously imagined. The Jesus story is a perennial myth with the power to impart the saving Gnosis which can transform each one of us into a Christ, not merely a history of events that happened to someone else two thousand years ago. Belief in the Jesus story was originally the first step in Christian spirituality – the Outer Mysteries. 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.