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Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin (cont.)
By Flavio Barbiero

The origins of Mithraism and Christianity

In order to explain the strict relation between Christianity and Mithraism we have to go back to their origins.

Christianity, as we know it, by universal recognition is a creation of St Paul, the Pharisee who was sent to Rome around 61 a.D., where he founded the first Christian community of the capital. The religion imposed by Paul in Rome was quite different from that preached by Jesus in Palestine and put into practice by James the Just, who was subsequently the leader of the Christian community of Jerusalem. Jesus’ preaching was in line with the way of living and thinking of the sect known as the Essenes. The doctrinal contents of Christianity as it emerged in Rome, at the end of the 1st century, instead, are extraordinarily close to those of the sect of the Pharisees, to which Paul belonged.

Paul was executed probably in 67 by Nero, together with most of his followers. The Roman Christian community was virtually wiped out by Nero’s persecution. We do not have the slightest information about what happened in this community during the following 30 years; a very disturbing blackout of news, because something very important happened in Rome at that period. In fact, some of the most eminent citizens of the capital were converted, like the consul Flavius Clemens, cousin of emperor Domitian; besides the Roman Church assumed a monarchic structure and imposed its leadership on all the Christian communities of the empire, which had to adjust their structure and their doctrine accordingly. This is proved by a long letter of pope Clemens to the Corinthians, written towards the end of Domitian’s reign, where his leadership is clearly stated. This means that during the years of the blackout, somebody who had access to the imperial house had revived the Roman Christian community to such a point that it could impose its authority upon all the other Christian communities. And it was “somebody” who perfectly knew the doctrine and thinking of Paul, 100% Pharisaic.

The mithraic organization also was born in that same period and in that same environment. Given the scarcity of written documents on the subject, the origin and the spread of the cult of Mithras are known to us almost exclusively from archaeological evidence (remains of mithraea, dedicatory inscriptions, iconography and statues of the god, reliefs, paintings, and mosaics) that survived in large quantities throughout the Roman empire. These archaeological testimonies prove conclusively that, apart from their common name, there was no relationship at all between the Roman cult of Mithras and the oriental religion from which it is supposed to derive. In the whole of the Persian world, in fact, there is nothing that can be compared to a Roman mithraeum. Almost all the mithraic monuments can be dated with relative precision and bear dedicatory inscriptions. As a result, the times and the circumstances of the spread of the Sol Invictus Mithras (these three names are indissolubly linked in all inscriptions, so there is no doubt that they refer to the same and only institution) are known to us with reasonable certainty. Also known are the names, professions, and responsibilities of a large number of people connected to it.

The first mithraeum discovered was set up in Rome at the time of Domitian, and there are precise indications that it was attended by people close to the imperial family, in particular Jewish freedmen. The mithraeum, in fact, was dedicated by a certain Titus Flavius Iginus Ephebianus, a freedman of emperor Titus Flavius, and therefore almost certainly a Romanised Jew. From Rome the mithraic organization spread, during the following century, all over the western empire.

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