Saul of Tarsus and Christ's Blood
The man known as Paul, also called the 13th apostle, was originally named Saul. Until he was about 30 years old, Saul was an outspoken critic of the new cult of rebel Jews following the teachings of the Rabbi Yeshua, who we now know of as Jesus. Paul later became the first evangelist.
Saul's anti Christian stance was abruptly reversed when on the road to Damascus, he had a vision. The Bible says he lost his sight for three days, and when he recovered, he was a convert.(Acts, chapter 9)
In Damascus, Saul began to preach, but the locals drove him out of town. He went to Jerusalem and tried to preach there, but Jesus' followers didn't trust him either. He escaped to his home town, Tarsus, in Cilicia, also known as Cesarea.
Tarsus, on the northern side of the Mediterranean, in what is now Turkey, was a bustling seaport, 2000 years old when Saul arrived in about year 40 C.E. This big, cosmopolitan city was a mixture of many cultures, and the ancient religion of the god Mithras was prominent among them. Shrines and images of Mithras abound there and as far west as the Danube River, and though obscure, a few of the concepts of Mithraism are known to us.
Mithras Slaying the Sacred Bull
"Spirit of Spirit, if it be your will, give me over to immortal birth so that I may be born again - and the sacred spirit may breathe in me."
Prayer to Mithras
A Look at Mithraism
The roots of Mithraism go back to a Persian religion (Zoroastrianism) and one of its Magi, named Zarathustra, whose name for "God" was Ahura-Mazda. Around 390 B.C.E., This religion made its way west into Greece, and placed "Mithras" in the role of a deity equal to the sun god. Its priests were "Magi;" the same Magi who visited Betl'chem when Jesus was born.
Zarathustra had predicted a Messiah, and Jesus' birth was thought perhaps to be his arrival. In the Persian "Avesta" (their religious writings), this Messiah will appear at the end of time to bring the triumph of good over evil. They call him the "Saushyant," and according to the Bundahishn (XXX,25), he will slay a magnificent bull, and make a potion of immortality for mankind from its fat, mixed with Hamoa juice.
The early Christians saw in the Magi's anticipation of `Jesus' coming a confirmation of their own belief and so allowed them to worship their Savior.
The festival of Mithras' birth was December 25th, the winter solstice, and the rebirth of the sun's light. He was said to have been forced out of a rock, wearing the Phrygian cap, holding a dagger and torch in his hands. This conception is almost certainly based on an ancient tradition dating from the time when humans first discovered that both light and fire could be produced by striking a flint. His day of worship was Sun-Day.
Besides having the same birthday as Christianity's Jesus, Mithras was said to have been born in a manger, among shepards. The custom of giving gifts on December 25 originated in Mithraism also, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.
The bull is associated with Venus or the Moon, and seen as a symbol of spring; another metaphor of rebirth. The key symbol, the scene most commonly represented in carvings, is Mithras straddling a bull, and holding its chin or nose, slashing its throat with a dagger and releasing the hot blood. Pits around Mithraic altars suggest that the worshippers may have also bathed ritually in the blood. This was followed by a meal of the bull's flesh.
This divine meal is more frequently portrayed than any other scene except the bull slaying and sometimes the latter appears on the front of a relief which portrays the meal on its reverse. In such cases the relief was mounted on a pivot so that during the ceremonies the worshippers' attention could be drawn to one scene or the other by rotating the slab.
Refuse pits accompanying Mithraic sites indicate that feasting was part of their ritual, and the drinking of the bull's blood; if no bull was available, other animals were used, or bread and fish were used as substitutes for meat, and wine for blood.
They believed that by eating the bull's flesh and drinking its blood they would be born again just as life itself had once been created anew from the bull's blood.
It was believed that the partaking of the sacrement ensured eternal life, the immediate passing, after death, to the bosom of Mithras, there to tarry in bliss until the judgement day. On the judgement day the Mithraic keys of heaven would unlock the gates of Paradise for the reception of the faithful; whereupon all the unbaptized of the living and the dead would be annihilated upon the return of Mithras to earth. It was taught that, when a man died, he went before Mithras for judgement, and that at the end of the world Mithras would summon all the dead from their graves to face the last judgement. The wicked would be destroyed by fire, and the righteous would reign with Mithras forever.
Mithras, after performing his deeds, was said to have ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, to become the intercessor for the human race among the gods on high.
Mithraism's "eternal life" concepts are repeated in Christianity, but they were NOT copied from Judaism, as some try to suggest. Judaism's concept of "Meshiach" is radically different than the Blood of Mithras. There is nothing in Judaism about drinking the God's blood and eating the God's flesh. There is nothing about a messiah in Mithraism. Only by a broad stretch of confused associations could one come up with the idea that Mithraism got its ideas from Judaism.
(This brief look covers the high points; for a complete study refer to "Mithras,The Secret God" by M.J. Vermaseren, Barnes & Noble, Inc. New York 1963)
Saul Becomes Paul
Saul had become convinced that Jesus would return within his lifetime. He therefore thought it was necessary to convert as many people as possible. He was a powerful, charismatic orator, and an effective evangelist.
Sacrifice and resurrection are common themes among countless belief systems; patterned by early people after the cycles of nature, their religions often centered on themes of death, rebirth, and transformation. Saul (now Paul) no doubt found it easier to convert the Tarsans by weaving the story of Jesus in with their own beliefs, and making it more palatable to them.
Thus were formed the "Paulist doctrines" that form Christianity as we know it today, i.e, God's love compelled him to sacrifice his only son, so that our sins could be forgiven, washed in the savior's blood, and the ritual eating of the flesh and drinking the blood of God, etc.. Using the blood and sacrifice motif, Paul took Mithraism up a step, from an animal to a Man/God being sacrificed; a potent and compelling idea. An idea that differs, though, from what Jesus taught, [ed...]
With this new inflection of the resurrection idea, Paul went on to convert huge numbers of people, finding plentiful fodder in the Roman cities teeming with displaced war refugees, victims of the Roman conquests.
Until the time of Paul, anyone wishing to join the Jewish cult of Jesus was first required to convert to Judaism. Paul broke with Jewish tradition and opened his religion to non-Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles. This was a radical and important break, allowing many new converts.
When the Bible was compiled, the old Jewish Pentateuch and accompanying books were called the "Old Testament," and newer books, including Paul's letters and trial briefs, became the "New Testament." (More about the compiling of the Bible.)
The translation of Mithraism into Christianity is demonstrated in Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 9, verses 13 and 14:
13 "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"
This is to say, "If goat's blood will get you some spiritual energy, then the blood of a messiah will get you even more." Paul is reasoning with blood-sacrificing Pagans, trying to appeal to their particular belief system.
But in order to believe the second part of that, you have to believe the first; You have to believe that blood is an effective tool, adequate payment, and that some sacrifices get better results than others from the mysterious "Gods."
Contemporary Christians are not likely to admit this, or even to admit the connection. The idea of actually slashing the throat of a lamb would horrify them; it would be seen as a vile Pagan act; not as what it is, the root of their religion. Church propaganda claims that the whole idea of blood payment was transcended with the crucifixion of Jesus, making it less messy and more profound. Perhaps, but it's still the same Pagan, barbarian recipe.
(Yes, Jews were the intended audience in "Hebrews." He was trying to convert them. Hebrews 9 clarifies Paul's way of thinking on a particular point, and to a specific audience. And yes, daily sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem produced rivers of blood that were carried away in huge hidden gutters built into the stone floor around the altar. Hundreds of sheep, cows, goats, and fowl were killed daily to appease the Jewish God. It's also debatable if Paul of Tarsus was really the author of "Letter to the Hebrews" as explained by this reader from the Netherlands:
"First some little comment about a remark you make about some lines in the epistle to the Hebrews and that they prove Paul being influenced by Mithraism. Personally I say again that I think that you are absolutely right about the influence, but it's better to take lines from another letter or book, because 1. it's not proven that Paul is the author of the letter to the Hebrews. Studies about language and style make it believable that he's not. And the letter misses the typical Paul-intro. Editors of the Bible made the title "Letter of Paul...." or "Paul's letter..." It doesn't appear in the Greek text. 2. If it is one of his letters I would comprehend a reference to Mithraism in all of his letters , but not in a letter to Hebrews, there he should make a reference to Judaic backgrounds and he does.) "
from "Jews, God, and History," by Max I. Dimont:
"To the early Christians, Jesus had been human with divine attributes conferred upon him after resurrection. To Paul, Christ was divine even before birth. To the early Christians, Jesus had been the son of God. To Paul, Christ was coequal and cosubstantial with God... Paul's thinking was dominated by the concept of original sin. According to Paul, man was contaminated by the concept of original sin. According to Paul, man could find redemption from sin only through Christ.
Paul was of slight stature, bowlegged, blind in one eye, and probably had some deformity of body. He was given to recurrent attacks of malaria, had repeated hallucinations, and some scholars believe he was subject to epileptic seizures. He was celibate, and exhorted others to celibacy."
Christianity is "Paulist Doctrine;" far removed from the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua - Jesus. This is where "Judaic Christianity" became "Hellenistic Christianity," and where the two religions finally, completely split.
Paul of Tarsus was persecuted, by Romans and Jews, though the Christian cult was still viewed as an oddity by most people. When Rome burned in about 64 C.E., it was rumored that the decadent emporor Nero had set the fire himself, to clear land for a new palace. Facing an enraged populace, he blamed the fire on the Christians, multiplying the anger towards them exponentially. To satisfy the public, he had hundreds of Christians torn apart by lions and burned at the stake.
Though the Bible is unclear on his death, most agree that Paul was executed by the Romans during this time. And within 300 years, Christianity had become the official religion of the crumbling Roman empire.
The books in the New Testament connected with Paul include: Acts, Romans, First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews.