Easily the most inaccurate statement about Mithras I have ever seen

Mithras, the subterranean sun, must be the most unfortunate of ancient deities.  There is so much twaddle talked online.  A correspondent today drew my attention to what must easily be the most ignorant statement about him that I have ever seen.  And there is considerable competition for that title, you know!  As usual, it is delivered with an utter certainty that Torquemada himself might have considered just a bit too fanatical.

The commenter here gives us the usual spiel about how he/she was brought up to be a Christian, and “studied” other religions.

In coming across zoroastrianism I was therefore stunned. Mithra, the son of the god Zoroastra, was born of a virgin on December 25th in a field surrounded by shepherds. After a 40 day period called Estra he died and was entombed, after which he rose on the third day. Ceremonies recalling this event used a rock to represent the man-god, and priests would eat bread and drink wine. It is no exaggeration or hyperbole to say this was the most horrifying realization of my life. This pulled all the certainty of my life out from under me.

After which we get the usual circumlocutions for “I decided to adopt the values of the age I happen to live in, instead of those of my parents.”  Such mindless conformity is unlikely to end well, of course.

But I must say I was fascinated.  I mean, how can you “study” Zoroastrianism and not know who Zoroaster was?  And plainly the poster does not!

What I’d really like to know, tho, is the source of this nonsense.  Someone, somewhere, must have come up with this.  Does anyone know who?

10 Responses to “Easily the most inaccurate statement about Mithras I have ever seen”


  1. Hans Tjelle

    It seems to me as if the extraordinary claims are about Zoroaster, not Mithra. All the claims about Mithra have been made before, and are pretty common, after all. What strikes me more is that this person seems to think Zoroaster is a god, and the father of Mithra. I even think (s)he pictures “Zoroastra” as a god similar to the Judean God, since he can be the father of Mithra while still keeping the mother a virgin, unlike for instance Zeus.

  2. Roger Pearse

    It is truly excellent value, isn’t it? And the funniest thing is that the whole farrago was preceded by a claim that this was the product of “study”. Of what, we might wonder?

  3. Helena Constantine

    I don’t know if this is the worst. I know another bizarre confabulation about Mithras that, while not being quite as ridiculous, seems all the more awful because years of research did go into it, and it carried the imprimatur of Oxford University Press.

  4. Roger Pearse

    Odd that OUP would publish it. But I’d love to see it, if it wouldn’t be a nuisance? With reference, if possible?

  5. Maureen

    Apparently, the “Barbarian Invasions” supplement to the “Rome: Total War” computer simulation game includes Parthians. The Parthians are Zoroastrians all, in this game. And where other barbarian nations feature the choice to build and improve temples to one of their main gods, the Parthian temples are uniformly called temples “of Zoroaster” or “of Zoroastra”, depending on the localization of languages.

    A lot of players do not seem to be clear on Zoroaster being more like a prophet than a god.

    So there’s one possible starting point for this farrago.

  6. Maureen

    Oops. I misunderstood. Rome: Total War subscribes to the Roman idea that gods from different countries still must handle the same fields. So there’s stuff like “Armazd” as a “god of leadership”, blah blah. (Not all categories are filled in all pantheons, though.)

    But there’s also the category “Temple of the One God” which is what “Zoroastra” is named as being. Um. So.

    I blame society.

  7. Helena Constantine

    I meant David Ulansey’s Book.

  8. Roger Pearse

    @Maureen: that sounds like much the most likely origin for this one. It’s *such* a daft mistake to make, otherwise.

    @Helen: I never know what to make of Ulansey’s work. Certainly much of it seems speculative to me, but the area in question is where Mithraic scholars are working, and they’re speculating too. I must read his book all through some time.

  9. Helena Constantine

    The real problem with Ulansey is that he looks at the monuments and sees evidence that isn’t there. For instance, there is small sculpture on a tautroctony relief (I can’t recall the Vermaseren number off the top of my head) that shows the infant Mithras touching the zodiacal clippeus. According to Ulansey this must and can only mean that he is wobbling it, creating the precession of the equinoxes, rather than just spinning it to oversee the cosmic cycle of the year the way Merkelebach, Beck, Gordon, et al. interpret it. There’s speculation and there’s making things up.

  10. Roger Pearse

    Um, that’s not good. That is the classic problem with interpreting monuments, of course, but as you say, it sounds as if he got carried away.



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