For anyone who is not familiar with historical and biblical scholarship of the last half century or so, The Jesus Mysteries
will come as something of a shock. Believing Christians will find it disturbing; Evangelicals will be horrified by it; Fundamentalists will no doubt ascribe it to the devil. And yet much in the book will be familiar to scholars.
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy demonstrate clearly and unambiguously that much of Christian belief and practice, rather than being (as the Church has always claimed) a vast contrast with the Pagan ideas of Greece and the Middle East 2,000 years ago, actually draws on those traditions. It's not just virgin births that were two-a-penny in pre- Christian religions, but baptism, communion, and the very concept of a dying and rising Godman. December 25th was the birthday of Mithras long before Jesus came along. Other gods turned water into wine, stilled stormy waters, healed the sick and raised the dead. Even the teachings of Jesus on love, moral purity, humility and poverty were not wholly original; while Christian beliefs on heaven and hell (and the Catholic Church's purgatory) owe far more to Paganism than they do to the Judaism from which Christianity grew.
All of this, to a greater or lesser extent, has been known for decades; much of it, for example, can be found in a 1920s book called Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning. Where Freke and Gandy develop their theory, though, is more contentious. They conclude that the Christian religion was actually designed as another version of the Pagan religion, that Jesus was simply another variant on Osiris, Dionysius, Mithras and other earlier gods, invented for the Jewish people. This controversial thesis will be dismissed by many readers, but the meticulous footnoting of sources, both ancient and modern, will cause others to wonder if this book ought to be taken more seriously than many recent rewritings of history. --David V. Barrett
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'Rarely have the roots of Christianity been disentangled to such disturbing effect. I shall never be able to read the gospels in the same way again.' ROGER BOULTON, presenter of Radio 4's The Sunday Programme 'A provocative, exciting and challenging book.' The Rt Revd JOHN SHELBY SPONG, Bishop of Newark