Byline: Sarah Brazil
AS YOU tuck into your turkey dinner this Christmas to celebrate the birth of Christ, and pop a cracker or two in honour of the man Himself, spare a thought for those who lost their feast day to the Christian Messiah.
Yes, Christmas (from the Old English Cristes maesse Christs Mass) effectively took over the feast day of another deity Mithras. And while Christians incontrovertibly argue that their Lord WAS born on December 25, there is much evidence to cast more than a shadow of doubt&
In the fourth century AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine declared December 25, which had been a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice, to be an immovable feast day for the entire Roman Empire.
The Christian Church soon declared that this date, too, was the birth date of the Lord Jesus. And while historical documents can provide no evidence for this date being attributed to Jesuss birth earlier than AD336, pressure to convert pagans who would not relinquish their winter solstice celebrations could have been one motive for the Christian churchs supplanting of the holiday.
Christianity was still a fledgling religion at this time, and there were many pagan rivals in existence. One rival in particular had a distinct claim to the controversial December 25 festival Mithraism.
Mithraism was a popular pagan religion that had a wide following in Rome from about 60BC. The legions of the Roman general Pompey first encountered Mithraism during their conquests in Persia, and upon returning to Rome they carried the pagan religion in tow. Mithraism grew in popularity in Rome, with everyone from soldiers to emperors worshipping its chief deity, Mithras.
Mithras was a sun god whose chief characteristics were fidelity, manliness and bravery. For this reason, he was very popular among Roman soldiers as he espoused all the virtues they aspired to. But Mithrass birthday was also on December 25. Mithras being a sun god, the date was a celebration of his (the suns) rebirth after surviving the winter.
So they share the same birthday. Coincidence or suspicious? Theological thievery or fact? There has been a flurry of interest in the past few decades by writers attempting to disprove not only that Jesus was born on December 25 but also many of the beliefs which underpin Christs very existence.
The co-existence of Christianity and Mithraism in Rome during the centuries following the birth of the Messiah has been interpreted by many as proof that Christianity might have ripped off many of the elements of Mithraism and, in short, blended it into their new religion to give it extra kudos.
And there are other similarities between the two deities which have raised a few eyebrows and sent conspiracists into a frenzy.
Mithrass birth bears a striking resemblance to Christs in that it was attended by both shepherds and magi, commonly known as the wise men. It has also been claimed that Mithras, too, was born of a virgin.
Mithraism also had seven sacraments. Sunday was a day of worship for followers of Mithraism. Mithras being a sun god and Sunday being the day of the sun, it was a natural choice. In fact, Mithraism preceded Christianity in choosing Sunday as its day of worship. Judaism celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday, and the transference of Christianity to Sunday is seen by many as an element of copycatting.
Mithras also carried out similar acts to Christs he banished evil spirits to Hell and established peace in the world. He also performed miracles, was know as the Good Shepherd and some claim that he, too, had 12 disciples with whom he had a last supper before returning to Heaven. …