Religion: Origin of Easter and Mithraism

American Iranian Nushin Namazi writes: , Today I attended Easter Sunday Christian Ecumenical Service and heard a sermon by Rev. Scotty McLennan, Dean of Religious Life, who drew a parallel between the Pagan Goddess of Eastre and Jesus's Resurrection Day. His lecture piqued my interest in this parallel and, upon further research I came across an article that ascribes the Origin of Easter and Christmas to Mithraism, the predominant pagan religion of the time that originated from Persia.

Christianity or Mithraism: It is surprising that Christianity was to become the international religion, when one considers that the already well-established religion of Mithraism was a natural challenger for that title. Up until the time of the Emperor Constantine, it was the latter religion which was more popular within the framework of the Roman Empire, and Christianity was regarded as being only one sect amongst numerous other sects. It was only when Constantine decreed that Christianity was to be the state religion, that Mithraism, together with a host of other religions and sects, was put into the melting pot, and ideas of that religion, most suited for the Christian purpose, were absorbed into the new state-approved religion.

Mithraism, the religion followed by those who worshipped the sun god Mithra, originated in Persia about 400 BC, and was to spread its pagan ideas as far west as the British Isles. In the early centuries of the Christian era,
Mithraism was the most wide-spread religion in the Western World, and its remains are to be found in monuments scattered around the countries of Europe, Mithra was regarded as created by, yet co-equal with, the Supreme Deity. Mithraists were Trinitarian, kept Sunday as their day of worship, and their chief festivals were what we know of as Christmas and Easter. Long before the advent of Jesus, Mithra was said to have been born of a virgin mother in a cave, at the time of Christmas, and died on a cross at Easter. Baptism was practised, and the sign of the cross was made on the foreheads of all newly-baptised converts. Mithra was considered to be the saviour of the world, conferring on his followers an eternal life in Heaven, and, similar to the story of Jesus, he died to save all others, provided that they were his followers.

For three centuries both religions ran parallel, Mithraism first becoming known to the Romans in 70 BC, Christianity following a century later, and it wasn’t until AD 377 that Christianity became sufficiently strong to
suppress its former rival, although Mithraism was to remain a formidable opponent for some time after that, only slowly being forsaken by the people. It was only the absorption of many Mithraist ideas into Christianity which finally saw its downfall.

The big turning point was brought about by the Congress of Nicaea in AD 325. Constantine, a great supporter of the Christian religion, although not converting to it until the time of his decease, gathered together 2,000 leading figures in the world of theology, the idea being to bring about the advent of Christianity as the official state religion of Rome. It was out of this assembly that Jesus was formally declared to be the Son of God, and Saviour of Mankind, another slain saviour god, bringing up the tally of slain god-men to seventeen, of which Mithra, together with such men as Bel and Osiris, was included.

Just as Nicaea can be regarded as the birthplace of Christianity, so too it can be regarded as the graveyard of what we imagine Jesus taught. From that time onwards, Christianity was to absorb the superstitions of Mithraism, and many other older religions, and what was believed to have happened to earlier saviour gods, was made to centre around the Nazarene. The coming of Christianity under state control was to preserve it as a religion, and was the death knell of all other sects and cults within the Roman Empire.

Had Constantine decided to retain Mithraism as the official state religion, instead of putting Christianity in its place, it would have been the latter that would have been obliterated. To Constantine however, Christianity had
one great advantage, it preached that repentant sinners would be forgiven their sins, provided that they were converted Christians at the time of their passing, and Constantine had much to be forgiven for, He personally
did not convert to the new religion until he was on his death bed, the reason being that only sins committed following conversion were accountable, so all sins committed by a convert, prior to conversion, didn’t matter, and he could hardly have sinned too much whilst he was lying on his death bed. Mithraism could not offer the same comfort to a man like Constantine, who was regarded as being one of the worst mass-murderers of his time.

The Emperor Julian, who followed Constantine, went back to Mithraism, but his short reign of only two years could not change what Constantine had decreed. His defeat, and death, at the hands of the Persians, was used by
the Christians as an argument in favour of the new against the old, being looked upon as an omen that Christianity had divine approval. If Julian had been spared to reign some years longer, the entire history of international religion would almost certainly have been different.

Under Emperor Jovian, who followed Julian, the substitution of Christianity for Mithraism made further progress, and old pagan beliefs, like the Virgin Birth, Baptism and Holy Trinity, became generally accepted as the basis of the state religion. The early Christian idea of Unitarianism was quickly squashed in favour of Trinitarianism, and those who refused to accept the Holy Trinity were put to the sword, the beginning of mass slaughter in the name of religion, which was to go on for centuries.

RH Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.  What  Nushin writes is extremely important. She does not give the source from which she got this information. She does not mention any relationship between Mithraism and Zoroaster.  There are a number of WAISers expert in theology.  They may wish to comment.  I am copying this to Scotty McLennan, and will of course post any observations he chooses to make.

I asked Nushin Namazi for the source of the information she included in her posting on Mithraism, which was generally well received.  Here it is_   Nushin writes: Also, in my readings on the internet, I came across a number of sites wherein the church had banned the mention of any idol god or goddess during the sermons. It is truly courageous of Reverand Scotty McLennan to draw parallels between the goddess of spring and tradition of easter.  Adriana Pena writes: I once read that the difference between Mithraism and Christianity, was that Mithraism excluded women, while Christianty did not...

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 12, 2005