Talk:Mithraic mysteries

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In adding some content to Great Ludovisi sarcophagus, I found more than one source saying that a Mithraist might be marked with an X (they call it a cross) on the forehead. I didn't find anything about that in the article here, so I just thought I'd mention it in case anyone found it interesting and wanted to keep an eye out in the sources. Cynwolfe (talk) 14:53, 15 November 2012 (UTC)


I keep dropping notes here in lieu of editing the article, but it's in such a state of advanced development I feel that any content needs to be added with care. So someday when I have time I'll try to take a more integrative approach. For now, I found this to be a clear and useful statement:

"A few years ago it became briefly fashionable to argue that the Roman cult was created in Italy (Vermaseren 1981; Merkelbach 1984; Clauss 2000). The early archaeological finds do not support this claim; neither do they point to an origin in Anatolia. However, the fact that key terms of Mithraic language are Greek and were translated into Latin implies an origin somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean."<ref>Richard Gordon, "Institutionalized Religious Options: Mithraism," in ''A Companion to Roman Religion'' (Blackwell, 2007), p. 397.</ref>

I think we imply this in the section on the archaeological evidence, but in that section we may get a little bogged down in overly technical details that could be placed in the footnotes, instead of offering this kind of overview for the general reader. Cynwolfe (talk) 19:03, 28 February 2013 (UTC)

The statement is clear, useful and certainly relevant. Still, it is one scholar's opinion on a much-discussed topic. I'd agree it is important as a further reminder that the debate about origins didn't end at the conference in 1971 where lots of people (including Richard Gordon) strongly criticized Cumont. Anyway, I think you're quite right that the article gets a little bogged down in technical details. The question is how to provide more of an overview without compromising neutrality... Kalidasa 777 (talk) 09:31, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
This is a classic case of taking a quotation out of context, and not knowing what the author is referring to.
To fill you in: As always, Gordon is criticizing the postulation of hypothesis without having any evidence to back it up. Although he is specifically referring to one particular "origin" theory here, Gordon is quite rightly critical of *ALL* hypothesis pertaining to the "origins" debate, not just those mentioned above, since *NONE* of them have evidence to back them up. -- (talk) 03:40, 9 October 2014 (UTC)

Denial of Persian sources[edit]

I have removed the section regarding the notion that Roman Mithricism was an Persian-independent product. Of course scholars may agree that the Roman beliefs were distinct, but it's plainly evident that they predominately sourced from Zoroastrian beliefs. For god sake, the Romans even admitted that their beliefs were based off of Zoroastrianism — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:48, 20 March 2013 (UTC)

Many people have differing opinions on topics, especially topics such as this. That is why editors on Wikipedia are not allowed to engage in original research; adding unverifiable content or removing supported content is problematic.
The section of text you tried removing was supported by citations. That is why HLwiKi and Paul August both reverted your edits. If there is reason to challenge the source or its applicability, then you may discuss it here, but you cannot simply remove article content because you disagree with it.  —Sowlos  08:24, 21 March 2013 (UTC) ‎
This is a continuing issue in this article, and it seems to me to arise from editors over-reading "dissimilarities" and "distinct product" as if it says "has no relation whatever". "Admitted" is also the wrong word above: the assumption seems to be that claims of originality or invention were as important to the Romans as they are to modern nationalists. But in fact writers such as Arrian note that the Roman capacity for empire-building was based in part on their ability to absorb and build on what others invented. Moreover, the Romans valued the authority that came from tradition (per their obsession with the concept of mos maiorum), and felt that the older the tradition the better. So the Roman Mithraists advertised Persian origin because within Roman culture such claims granted their mysteries the authority of great antiquity (Zoroaster was considered one of the most ancient sages in Greco-Roman sources, and some considered him the most ancient of all).
Modern scholars, however, are skeptical of whether Mithraic rites practiced in some rocky cavern in the Ardèche were handed down in unbroken litany from the mouth of Zoroaster. In my personal opinion, they are overly skeptical regarding possible influence of communities from Asia Minor that developed in Rome in the latter 1st century BC as the result of the military adventurism of Lucullus, Pompey et al. (just as Carthaginian neighborhoods had earlier introduced religious elements). But the scholarly reasoning is exactly backwards from what you assume, scholars think that the Roman Mithraists exaggerated the extent to which they inherited their rites from an authentic and pristine Persian source, not that they grudgingly admitted it. Distinct product of the Roman Imperial world casts a wide net: for comparison, there are rites of Isis at Rome that are a "distinct product of the Roman Imperial world" in that they amalgamate Greek interpretations of Isis with Imperial cult. It would be a mistake to regard these rites as direct reflections of authentic Egyptian religion handed down untainted over the ages; they are products of their particular time and its religious syncretism. See also the Serapia festival: the cultus pertaining to Serapis drew its authority from its Egyptian origin, and yet Serapis was a distinct expression of the wider Greco-Roman world. This is the religious context in which the Mithraic mysteries develop at Rome. At any rate, Sowlos is right: you can't just delete properly sourced material. But you can present other views if you can cite sources that meet the standards for RS for this topic. Cynwolfe (talk) 12:40, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
I think you covered all the angles and worded it well. Perhaps this could be better incorporated into the article for the layman readers' understanding?  —Sowlos  19:28, 21 March 2013 (UTC)
"the Roman Mithraists advertised Persian origin because within roman culture such claims granted their mysteries the authority of great antiquity"
The commonalities between roman Mythriasm and the Persian are undeniable. There is little relevance of the obscure source which you've mentioned here, who seems to have conjured an ad-hoc explanation to satisfy his centricity - and such is the likely explanation as to why 'Western' Scholars tend to underrate the influence of the Persians on Roman Mythriasm. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:04, 27 March 2013 (UTC)
  1. What Cynwolfe mentioned is extremely relevant. To understand someone's meaning, you must understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.
  2. Calling the commonalities between roman Mythriasm and the Persian ... undeniable does not support any claim of ancestry. Similar does not mean decended from. To treat similarities as the justification for such claims is original research. We can only use statements from reputable reliable sources as justification for any claims made on Wikipedia.
  3. I'm sorry if you think 'Western' Scholars tend to underrate the influence of the Persians on Roman Mythriasm, but — as I already mentioned — we depend on academic sources for what goes into Wikipedia. If you disagree with modern scholarship on the matter, Wikipedia is not the place for you to have this debate. Discussions at Wikipedia do not influence academic research.  —Sowlos  11:20, 27 March 2013 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I sorta feel as if the IP misunderstood both me and the article in the first place. The article seems to me to say that the Roman Mithras was a reconceptualization of the Persian deity, and thus the connections are indeed "undeniable". But since the individual cults of Mithras themselves differed from each other in matters of liturgy and such, it's implausible to imagine that they directly preserve authentic Persian rites in an original form. Again, compare the ceremonies of Isis in the Roman Imperial world: an Egyptologist would be able to show how these were a distinct product of that world, and not an unadulterated replica of Isis worship in Egypt a thousand years prior to the Greco-Roman era.

Or look at the varieties of Christian worship: how much resemblance would a neutral observer find between the services at a small Appalachian evangelical church on Sunday morning, and Christmas Eve mass conducted by the Pope? Other than invoking the name of Jesus Christ, the two ceremonies have so little in common that we might not identify them as the same religion. One is conducted in English, the other in Latin. The Appalachian minister may or may not wear a collar, but his dress would in no way resemble the robes of the cardinals. The physical houses of worship are vastly incommensurate. It's only because the history of Christianity is well documented that we can understand the connection. The history of the Mithraic mysteries is not well documented. Responsible scholars only make assertions based on evidence. They can assert that the Roman Mithraists believed they were heirs to the Persian tradition, and they can use comparative methodologies, but the origin of Mithraic mysteries among the Romans is simply not documented. There are no records of transmission. Our lack of knowledge is just an unfortunate fact.

If the IP would like to continue the discussion, (s)he should point out misleading sentences in the article and suggest an alternate wording. (I've found sentences in Mithraic articles that vastly overstate the more nuanced positions of the sources.) What sentences "deny" that the Mithraists said they based their religion on Persian traditions? How can we make more accurate statements? We need comments specific enough to be actionable. Cynwolfe (talk) 14:02, 27 March 2013 (UTC)

the OP and others seem to be unaware that the "Zoroaster" in modern perception is not the same as the "Zoroaster" in Greek/Roman/Hellenistic perception. The latter was a Hellenistic pseudepigraphic construct, a neo-pythagorean/neo-platonic product of their own creative fantasy (but of course, "real" for the Romans etc, perception does not imply reality). Cumont didn't cotton on to this difference either. But it would not fair to assume that Cumont should have known better, even though he was an authority on "Zoroaster-ian" pseudepigrapha. Cumont couldn't know the difference either because, like the Romans, he didn't have anyone he could ask. After all, in 1899, scholarship on Iranian subjects had not properly begun yet.
@Cyanwolfe: Borrowing of a few words via a neo-platonic fantasy tale does not constitute evidence of a "relationship", leave alone of continuity. Or to put it another way: if someone were to found a "Klingon religion", would that make the believers of the religion Klingons?
When magicians chant "abra cadabra", they are following the centuries-old practice of speaking Pseudo-Latin to play on the medieval beliefs that sacred language has magic potency. Many religions employ sacred words into their litanies to make them more solemn, more mystical, more magical. The "Persians" certainly did it (using Avestan, their sacred language, and which is where the name "Mithra" actually comes from), and evidently at some point a few words got picked up by the Romans too. We don't know where or when or how, but there is hard evidence that it happened. But that's the only evidence we have, and the few "abra cadabra"s and the like are by no means any meaningful evidence of similarity. And even if there was any similarity, there would also need to be evidence that the similarity was transmitted as part of a coherent theology or practice, and not just mimicked in isolation. (A parrot that mimics a songbird would sound like a songbird, but also needs to look and behave like a songbird to be considered a songbird). Proof is the rock of science, everything else is speculation.
In the paragraphs above, I've downplayed borrowing to properly distinguish it from evolution or continuity. There may well have been more borrowing than the evidence of four/five words indicates. Its possible. But hard evidence is all that scholars may legitimately go on. Everything else would be speculation. Speculative hypotheses like Cumont's are permissable to a degree, but they must eventually be substantiated by cold hard evidence. And that's where Cumont fails (very badly too, since his arguments are cyclical). Ok, in the 19th century scholarship was pretty sloppy, so he could be forgiven for that. But we live in the 21st century now, where peer-review and evidence are not forgiving. This is good science. Cumont's hypothesis is bad science.
One of the problems with this article is that the "origin" issue is given too *much* space (and, because it was all copy-pasted together, pretty bad space at that). The only valid answer to any "origin" question is "unknown, due to lack of evidence." There is nothing more to it. It is also utterly irrelevant to any understanding of the Roman cult. Including Mithraic perserie (which is a legitimate sub-topic that needs to be dealt with coherently, and not whilly-nilly zig-zagging as presently in the article). -- (talk) 03:40, 9 October 2014 (UTC)
Cumont is someone later scholars often disagree with, but can't ignore. You've raised the topic of possible role of pseudo-Zoroastrian writings in the origin of the Mithraic mysteries. Perhaps the article could say more about this. But you've also complained that the article already gives too much space to the origin issue. Kalidasa 777 (talk) 03:13, 23 October 2014 (UTC)

Article needs attention of an expert[edit]

This article needs attention from someone who knows what he is talking about. At the moment it's a terrible article. I don't know the tag for expert, so I've stuck the pov tag on it (because it has that problem too!). — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:02, 25 December 2013 (UTC)

What specifically do you think is "terrible" about the article? Kalidasa 777 (talk) 21:11, 25 December 2013 (UTC)
The problems in this case are the so called "experts". Because they get payed for inventing unreal stories about hypothethical Roman cults. The only question remains why don't they just play Ping-Pong instead? -- (talk) 21:28, 9 January 2014 (UTC)
I think what is trying to say is that this article is terribly naive, reads like it was written like a 15-year old, with no real understanding of the material, and no respect for sources (littered with the usual "I use google books" approach). If that is what he/she is saying, I agree completely. :-) -- (talk) 03:40, 9 October 2014 (UTC)

Mithras - the bull slayer[edit]

While not being an expert in Roman history, it's still clear that "the bull" stands for the Canaanite Baal god. Therefore anybody should know what Mithras slaying the bull means, since you all know what the Romans did in Jerusalem. However, the Romans weren't the only ones slaughtering Caananitans, the Persians and the Egyptians started with it. -- (talk) 20:41, 9 January 2014 (UTC)

Richard Noll's take on C.G.Jung: is this the right page?[edit]

A couple of sentences were recently added to the Mithraism and Christianity section, about the relation of C.G.Jung's school of depth psychology to Mithraic and other classical mysteries, and to theories of difference between races. The source given was an online text by Richard Noll.

Jungian interpretation of religion is a big topic — a large number of books and articles have been published about it. Richard Noll is one notable writer about Jung, but a controversial one. If Noll's views are to be presented, I'd suggest Noll's name should be mentioned inline, and other sources consulted.

In any case, is this Mithraic Mysteries page — which up till now has focussed on Roman history — the appropriate place to engage in controversies about Jung? Kalidasa 777 (talk) 08:27, 28 April 2014 (UTC)

No. Not only is Jung not qualified to have an opinion on the Mysteries, and his work is over 100 years old, and his theories of a "universal subconcious" have long been dismissed. -- (talk) 03:40, 9 October 2014 (UTC)