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Merry Mithras

A big thanks to Rick B. for this clip from the BBC TWO show 'QI' hosted by Stephen Fry. Take a myth about the Roman God Mithras and change the name to Jesus and voila one could start their own religion. Here is some additional information on the myth's similarities to the Christian myth.

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when you're thru with laughing and are still interested in the argument: here is a mild confutation

Love it. Here's another thing I love: Wikipedia's disclaimer adorning the 'Similarities to Christianity' section on Mithraism. It reads, simply: 'the neutrality of this section is disputed.' Yeah, I bet it is. Such a dry and formal characterization of the raging scuffle going on behind the scenes in the Wikipedia message board.

Fantastic. I absolutely love QI after having accidently found it (for crying out loud, would American TV show some of these great British shows? Of course not). Not to mention the tidbit about Mithras. Christianity is the English language. It doesn't make it's own religion, it stalks religions down an alley, beats the crap out of them, robs them, and forever claims that it always was this way.

It's amazing that with all those similarities, the majority of Christian adherents don't say "WTF!? Guess (my) religion is a sham!" ... But guess not.

I think. however, the War in Iraq has, more than any event in the last 50 years, demonstrated to me how people will believe whatever they want to believe, regardless of the facts, if they really want to. Scary.

It gets better, just compare Jesus and Horus (an Egyptian deity) and you will find that they too are very similar i.e, born of a virgin, son of god, died and was resurrected, etc etc. It's as if the Jesus character was just compiled using older religions as a basis.

I always loved the one response, "The devil/god put it there to test our faith" ... same reason he put dinosaur bones and other things that disagree with their religion!

It is simply dumbfounding sometimes ...

Actually, the more I thought about this since my last post, all this Mithras evidence wouldn't convince the crackpots. They'd just use this to confirm that God was getting people to believe these things in a variety of religions, proving that they are true.

I am an ex-Evangelical Christian. I like a good round of guffaws at the expense of Christians as much as the next guy. But I cannot find any credible academic material to back up these Mithra-Jesus parallel claims. It looks like Mithraism spanned quite a long time in human history and picked up many differing myths surrounding his birth, ressurection, and divinity/humanity.

Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Can anyone point me towards academic, non-community-generated material that will credibly draw these parallels with evidence?

Thanks so much for posting this QI segment. I just watched this episode last night myself and cracked up at the Mithras discussion.

I've been a fan of Stephen Fry (& Hugh Laurie) for decades now, so thank you for spreading the QI love. I'm annoyed that we can't get this quality of a quiz show on American TV and I have to resort to illegal downloading for my QI fix. Then again, there aren't too many American quiz masters that are geniuses in the caliber of Stephen Fry.


Simply try any academic search website Like Academic Search Elite. There you'll find sources that are scholarly.

One that came up is "Festivals of fire and flame" by Suzan Donleavy-Johnston. The Source is Parabola v. 26 no2 (May 2001) p. 22-6.

She explores the festivals' associations with winter solstice rites and notes the similarity between the story of Mithras, from the pre-Christian Mithraic cult of Persia, and that of Jesus of Nazareth.

Not only does Mithras Parallel Jesus, but so does Horus, Dionysus, Attis, Osiris, and Herucles, as well as others. The similarities include: healing the sick, casting out demons, eating the flesh and blood of the savior, remaining dead for three days, then rising, and lots more.

This isn't exactly anything new, its just that most Christians aren't aware of such things simply because no one told them. Go to any library and brush up briefly on these gods and you will find striking resemblences on your own.

Research concerning textual and archeological evidence point towards incredible parallels concerning the myth surrounding mithras and christianity.

Even in an outdated work (Vermaseren, Mithras: The Secret God, NY 1963) the evidence seems insurmountable. E.g.: Jesus ascending to heaven in Kings 2,11 is undoubtedly a further elaboration on the same event in the cult of mithras. mithras was born on dec. 25th. The water miracle in 2. moses 17 resembles events being displayed in reliefs concerning the mithras-cult. Even basic features like heaven and hell seem to be influenced by the mithra-religion.

As I say, the work I refer to is outdated and I don't have the time to do further reading, but the religion surrounding mithras has left behind reliefs across large parts of the Eurasian continent with numerous scriptural references.

It should be easy to find newer reference books via

I beg your pardon for this rough and superficial sketch on a difficult topic.

thanks Rick B for that clip. what a wonderful birthday present. By a strange coincidence, I saw that episode of QI but missed exactly this section when I was called away to deal with a muddy dog. Having taped it for my sister, I had just settled down to watch and found the tape had been erased. So instead I checked my emails and there was this link... now if that isn't proof of the existence of mithras, i don't know what is. now please lets all remember that all religions and beliefs are just creations of man's imagination and not to be taken seriously. so instead lets spend this season as one marvelling and celebrating mankind's astonishing imagination.

Joseph Campbell

Finally a book by French philosopher Michel Onfray is being translated into English as "Atheist Manifesto".

"CAEN, France– He is a self-described hedonist, atheist, libertarian, and left-wing anarchist. He is also France's best-selling philosopher.

At a time when a French high school teacher was forced into hiding after death threats for writing an article in Le Figaro in September calling Islam a violent, hateful religion and Christianity and Judaism non-violent, loving religions, Michel Onfray has already gone a step further: in Atheist Manifesto he dismantles and condemns as dangerous and archaic not only Islam, but Christianity and Judaism as well.

And after more than 30 books, he is finally seeing his ideas spread far beyond his native Normandy. His 2005 book, Traité d'athéologie, became a best-seller not only in France, where it has sold 230,000 copies, but also in Italy and Spain, and has sold well in other Latin countries, and even in Germany and Asia.

In the new year, it will become the first of his books to be translated into English. Published under the title Atheist Manifesto, it will arrive in Canada from Penguin in February."

"If it were only the Atheist Manifesto, however, Onfray might be seen as a provocateur, a one-book-wonder, or as Publishers Weekly in July referred to his book in a preview of upcoming titles, part of a "new subcategory: the "anti-religion book."

In fact, for Onfray, 47, it is only one part of an all-encompassing philosophical oeuvre, the foundation and interconnectivity of which he outlines in his latest book, La Puissance d'exister, or The Power to Exist, published in France in October.

His is a utilitarian philosophy celebrating an ethical hedonism that uses the brain and body as the focal point for a philosophical approach to art and politics and daily life. It breaks from the idealistic Platonic tradition that relegates the body to a lower role than the mind, and which Onfray believes has contaminated mainstream philosophy up to today."

When is the American MSM going to take up this story?

Hi guys, interesting discussion.

QI: Quite Incorrect

I'm an atheist, and QI is one of my favourite shows, but I'm afraid all that "Mithras = Jesus" stuff was complete balderdash.

The legend of Mithras changed constantly, as he was adopted by new cultures and given different things to do: Mithras started off as one of dozens of minor Indian gods, and at the time of the earliest surviving written reference to him, in a treaty of 1400 BC, he is basically a guy who goes around punishing people who break treaties or contracts. In some traditions he was a great warrior, in others he was a pacifist. He spread into Persia, and filtered into the local Zoroastrian mythology as one of seven minor spirits who were intermediaries between the Persian’s god of heaven (Ohrmazd) and their god of hell (Ahriman) – and helped get dead souls to the place they needed to go.

Then along came the Romans. The Romans loved religion and mythology, but weren’t particularly sure which religion was the right one, and so to play it safe often melted the best bits of any religion they came across into their own. As everyone knows, the Romans adopted the Greek gods wholesale, changing their names (Zeus to Jupiter, Poseidon to Neptune, Heracles to Hercules, etc), and then when they encountered the Egyptians worshipping gods with crazy dogs’ heads and birds’ heads etc, they decided: “Ah, no, what must have happened here is that when our own gods (by which we mean the ones we nicked from the Greeks) were being attacked by the Titans, they fled to Egypt for awhile to hide and regroup, and while they were there they put on animals’ heads to disguise themselves... yes... that will do.” When Roman soldiers in Babylon discovered Mithras, they took quite a shine to him, and came up with all sorts of new mythology about him to tie him into the Graeco-Roman tradition as a sun-god associated with Apollo and others. Over time, worship of Mithras developed into something of a cult, and in the first centuries AD threatened to rival early Christianity in the battle for hearts and minds in the Empire.

So there were many versions of Mithras, and as one scholar of Mithras pointed out in the 1970s, ‘At present our knowledge of both general and local cult practice in respect of rites of passage, ceremonial feats and even underlying ideology is based more on conjecture than fact.’ Still, those supposed Jesus parallels have no basis at all.

The claims made in QI were first listed in 1999 by one ‘Acharya S’ (pen name of D. Murdock), who argued in her book, ‘The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold’, that the character Jesus and the entire Christian religion were fabricated – ripped off from earlier pagan mythology – in order to unite the Roman empire. QI picked up her list of Mithras/Jesus similarities wholesale: even giving them in the same order as in her book.

A little more research by the BBC would quickly have shown them to be nonsense.

  1. First of all, in no version of the Mithras myth was he born in a cave, or of a virgin. In Roman legend Mithras was born out of a lump of solid rock – maybe emerging from it left a cave behind, and perhaps technically the rock had never had sex... but it’s hardly identical to Jesus’ birth in the gospel. What Stephen Fry failed to mention is that unlike the baby Jesus, when Mithras became human he was ‘born’ a full-grown man. In some Roman texts [written at least one century AFTER the birth of Christ] Mithras’s birth was indeed attended by shepherds (but not angels or wise men), who helped him out of the rock and gave him some food to eat, but in other versions Mithras was born before any other humans had been created on earth yet. The Persian Mithras, meanwhile, was attributed to an incestuous relationship between two gods: Ahura-Mazda and his mother. Acharya says that in Hindu tradition the Indian Mithras, “was born of a female, Aditi, the ‘mother of the gods’” who could be considered a virgin… Could she? Well, Acharya claims that the “largest near-eastern Mithraeum [which] was built in western Persia at Kangavar, is dedicated to ‘Anahita, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithras’.” No it isn’t. Not only is her only source on that a paper written in 1993 by a then-high school student, David Fingrut, who made this claim without any documentation whatsoever himself, but the building at Kanagvar is not a Mithraeum at all, but a temple to the fertility goddess Anahita (dated 200 BC) – who virgin or otherwise is was a fertility goddess regarded not as Mithra's mother, but as his consort. Okay, so he was apparently born on 25th December – but that proves nothing: the Bible doesn’t attribute a date to Jesus’ birth.

  2. He was considered a great travelling teacher and master.

Acharya S gives no source for this – which is unsurprising, as there is no Mithraic literature which talks of him travelling anywhere or teaching anything – and anyway, who ever heard of a religious leader who WASN’T a teacher and master?

  1. He had 12 companions or disciples.

Nope. In Persian mythology Mithras has two disciples who are mini versions of himself, and carry his stuff for him. When the Romans adopted him they gave him a bunch of disciples – but not 12 – and these were CONSTELLATION ANIMALS, not people: a dog, a lion, a scorpion, etc. Acharya’s sole source for the ’12 Disciples’ thing is a Roman carving of Mithras slaying a bull (i.e. because when the Mithrasian Romans adopted him, they based him on their previous hero Perseus – who also killed a bull... and was also born from rock, incidentally): the scene is framed by 6 human-looking faces on each side. Aside from the fact that this particular carving significantly post-dates the Christian gospels (so that any borrowing would have had to be the other way), these figures have been identified by modern Mithraic scholars as representing zodiacal symbols. Indeed, Acharya herself, in a follow-up book, acknowledged this point – so QI’s mistake is even more unforgiveable.

  1. Mithra's followers were promised immortality.

Acharya reckons Mithraism “surely offered its initiates deliverance from some awful fate to which all other men were doomed, and a privileged passage to some ultimate state of well-being.” This is mere guesswork on her part [and so what if it was true? Vikings were promised an afterlife in Valhall too – in fact almost ALL religions promise some sort of afterlife] – the only hard evidence of a "salvational" ideology in Roman Mithraism is a piece of graffiti found in the Santa Prisca Mithraeum (a Mithraist temple), dated no earlier than 200 AD, that reads, "And us, too, you saved by spilling the eternal blood”… and the blood in question is that of the bull Mithra killed -- not his own. Next!

  1. He performed miracles.

Whoop-de-doo! How many ancient gods do you know who HAVEN’T got any magic powers?

  1. Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.

Nope. Acharya arrives at this conclusion by twisting the bull Mithra killed to also represent himself. Acharya’s source on this is not any Mithraic scholar, but one Gwydion O'Hara, author of Sun Lore, and a high priest of the Wiccan Church of Canada! A real Mithraic scholar, Vermasaren, who has been very active in translating Mithraic inscriptions, has this to say: “neither any temples nor any inscriptions give any definite evidence to support the view of Mithras representing the very bull he slayed … and it was not for the sake of “world peace”". (And anyway, Jesus sacrificed himself for atonement from personal sin, not "world peace" either).

  1. He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.

A complete dud. There is no reference in Mithraic literature to Mithras ever even dying – let alone being buried or resurrected.

  1. His resurrection was celebrated every year.

The only reference to Roman followers of Mithras celebrating his resurrection comes from Tertullian – a famous Christian writer and church leader from Tunisia in the third century. So once again, unless any earlier evidence ever emerges, one can safely assume that Roman Mithrasians were influenced by Christianity, not the other way around.

  1. He was called "the Good Shepherd" and identified with the Lamb and the Lion.

Nope. The Roman Mithras only ever had the symbol of the lion (in the same way that Athena’s symbolic animal was the owl, and Artemis’s was the deer). Romans chose the lion for Mithras because he was their sun god, and Leo was the House of the Sun in Babylonian astrology. And anyway, all the images of Mithras with a lion or two post-date Christianity by at least 100 years. And anyway, Jesus’ association with the lion comes from his membership of the tribe of Judah, which used the lion symbol even before Mithras made it into Persia!

  1. He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."

All these titles are from sources that post-date the birth of Christ by at least 150 years (the Indian and Persian Mithras was always simply ‘the Mediator’: helping uphold treaties in India, and communicating between heaven and hell in Persia): and anyway Jesus’s titles are consciously taken from prophecies in the Old Testament, so unless Acharya is claiming that Judaism too was invented by the Romans...

  1. The leader of the Mithraic services was called ‘Il Papa’ (the Pope) and lived on Vatican Hill, in Rome.

Okay, like Christians, Mithraic initiates called each other used familial terms such as “brother” and “father” (though unlike Christianity, women were not allowed to join the Mithraic religion – one of the main differences in fact... I’m surprised QI didn’t mention it). Thus, of course the leader would have been ‘Il Papa’ – ‘the Father’ – and what if he did live in Rome? It was the capital and biggest city in the empire – where the heck else would you want to set up your international headquarters? The USA and Canada both base their UK embassies in London – doesn’t mean one country was invented by ripping off the other... or does it? Bad example.

In conclusion, don’t believe everything you hear on humorous quiz shows, even on the BBC.

And in Christmas of the year 4000, when both QI and Christianity are still going strong, but the history of the 20th century is a bit fuzzy, look out for such blunders as: “You see, there was this religion called the ‘Jedi Knights’ which was invented ‘Long long ago…’, so it pre-dates Christianity, and there was this chap called Obi-Wan Kenobi who wandered in the desert, and was a great master and teacher, and rose from the dead... and Anakin Skywalker who was born of a virgin and sacrificed himself to defeat evil... so you see, Christianity is complete plagiarism!”

Elain, thanks for the post.

However, no offense intended but there are some serious problems in your research on Mithras, especially by dating it to 1 AD after the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

1] Mithras predates Christianity by 2 centuries.

It was said to be a Persian in origin. Mithraism existed long before before the Romands encountered in Babylon.

"IN THAT unknown epoch when the ancestors of the Persians were still united with those of the Hindus, they were already worshippers of Mithra. The hymns of the Vedas celebrated his name, as did those of the Avesta, and despite the differences obtaining between the two theological systems of which these books were the expression, the Vedic Mitra and the Iranian Mithra have preserved so many traits of resemblance that it is impossible to entertain any doubt concerning their common origin. Both religions saw in him a god of light, invoked together with Heaven,"

Taken from "The Mysteries Of Mithra" by Franz Cumont 1903

2] I noticed that you repeatedly only referred to the point that writings on Mithras occured after Jesus' death to make it seem as Mithras is the copycat.

That's ingenuous because sources have shown that Mithras worship occured before Jesus of Nazareth appeared.

"His distance from the great centers of ancient civilization explains the belated arrival of Mithra in the Occident. Official worship was rendered at Rome to the Magna Mater of Pessinus as early as 204 B.C.;"

And given that the Gospels on Jesus occured 40-100 years after Jesus' death, I see little proof that the legends of Mithras copied from Jesus Christ.

By the way, the New Testament epistles and most of the non-canonical literature until the mid-2nd century has no mention of the life of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the disciples on earth or even holy places, such as Bethlehem, Nazareth and Calvary.

3] You also made a glaring mistake by claiming that "anyway Jesus’s titles are consciously taken from prophecies in the Old Testament"

Really? The Messiah in the Old Testaments was to be born of the blood of David. But with the Christian emphasis on the virgin birth and Jesus' divine bloodline, Jesus is clearly at odds with the Messiah in the Old Testaments.

As for claims that Jesus' title was taken from Old Testaments, the word "Christ" was not a word or title from the Old Testaments.

“... The more serious criticism is that the records would have identified Jesus by his given name rather than "Christus."

In addition, Christian accounts were readily available while centuries of inquiry have turned up no authentic contemporaneous Roman documents related to a historical Jesus.

The word Christ is a Greek-derived title meaning "Anointed One". At his time, Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth.


I do enjoy the rest of your points but it is also clear that the Christian faith also did a lot of borrowings and copyings from the traditions and culture at that time, from Mithraism as well.

Btw Elain, I also noticed that you mostly did a cut and paste for the second half from this website, which was mentioned in the first post of this thread:

Next time do mention the source, so people can refer to it as well.

I am basing a fair bit of my points to the historian Franz Cumont, who is consider by many to be the leading research authority on Roman Paganism. You may want to read the writings of James Frazer and Kersey Graves to find out more on the issues.

Here are some points in contention to the points that Elain largely takes from this source:

Please bear in mind that my points are based on the substantial amount of research that the worship of Mithras occurred before Christianity and I have supported this in my earlier posts. Elain tried to circumvent this by referring to texts after the birth of Christ related to Mithraism.

And by the way, there was both a Mitra in the Hindu pantheon and a minor deity named Mithra among the Persians. Elain’s source neglects to mention this.

Here are the points that Elain’s comments and source failed to address.

  • In Persian tradition, Mithra's ascension to heaven was said to have occurred in 208 B.C., 64 years after his birth. After the earthly mission of this god had been accomplished, he took part in a Last Supper with his companions before ascending to heaven, to forever protect the faithful from above.

  • Why the birth and life of Mithras is identical to that of Jesus Christ

“The faithful referred to Mithra as "the Light of the World", symbol of truth, justice, and loyalty. He was mediator between heaven and earth and was a member of a Holy Trinity. According to Persian mythology, Mithras was born of a virgin given the title 'Mother of God'. The god remained celibate throughout his life, and valued self-control, renunciation and resistance to sensuality among his worshippers.”

The idea that Mithras was born of rock was a later Roman invention. The Virgin birth of Mithras was Persian in origin as discussed in my second post at this thread and occurred more than 200 years before the Birth of Christ.

According to Persian traditions, the god Mithras was actually incarnated into the human form of the Saviour expected by Zarathustra. Mithras was born of Anahita, an immaculate virgin mother once worshipped as a fertility goddess before the hierarchical reformation. Anahita was said to have conceived the Saviour from the seed of Zarathustra preserved in the waters of Lake Hamun in the Persian province of Sistan.

“Aside from Christ and Mithras, there were plenty of other deities (such as Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Balder, Attis, and Dionysus) said to have died and resurrected. Many classical heroic figures, such as Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus, were said to have been born through the union of a virgin mother and divine father. Virtually every pagan religious practice and festivity that couldn't be suppressed or driven underground was eventually incorporated into the rites of Christianity as it spread across Europe and throughout the world.”

For my source, please refer to the Introduction section from:

  • Why the date for sun worship or December 25th is a holy day for Mithras.

The Persian crown, from which all present day crowns are derived, was designed to represent the golden sun-disc sacred to Mithras. As a deity connected with the sun and its life-giving powers, Mithras was known as 'The Lord of the Wide Pastures' who was believed to cause the plants to spring forth from the ground.

  • Christians and Christianity should not be celebrating December 25th for the birth of Christ.

If the accounts in the Bible are correct, the time of Jesus birth would have been closer to mid-summer, for this is when shepherds would have been "tending their flocks in the field" and the new lambs were born.

  • Mithras was called "the Good Shepherd" and identified with the Lamb and the Lion.

Indeed, the Roman Mithras only ever had the symbol of the lion. However in Attis, a bull was slaughtered while on a perforated platform. The animal's blood flowed down over an initiate who stood in a pit under the platform. The believer was then considered to have been "born again." Poor people could only afford a sheep, and so were literally washed in the blood of the lamb. This practice was interpreted symbolically by Christians

Cited from Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, "The Jesus Mysteries."

  • Doctrinal similarities between Mithraism and Christianity are too hard to ignore.

Both the Catholic church and Mithraism had a total of seven sacraments. Epiphany, JAN-6, was originally the festival in which the followers of Mithra celebrated the visit of the Magi to their newborn god-man. The Christian Church took it over in the 9th century. Followers of both religions celebrated a ritual meal involving bread. Early Christians initiated converts in March and April by baptism. Mithraism initiated their new members at this time as well. Barbara G. Walker in her 1996 article “Mithras” even remarked St. Augustine even declared that the priests of Mithraism worshiped the same God as he did

It is hard to prove that Christians did not borrow from the Pagans. By the way, Kersey Graves in The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors makes it clear that there are almost 200 precise matches between the events in the lives of Jesus and Horus, and the 346 "striking analogies between Christ and Chrishna (Krishna).

For more readings you can refer to:

Acharya S, The Christ conspiracy: the greatest story ever sold Kersey Graves, The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ; Recovering the Lost Light

I think it’s safe to conclude not to believe everything a Christian tells you about Christ : >


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