I’ve been thinking about Mithras and Mithra, Roman and Persian. Some of the comments on my recent post, Why Cumontian Mithras studies are dead, suggested that Roman syncretism could not be left out of account, and that any eastern cult that entered the Roman world was likely to undergo modification.
There is much truth in this. We all remember the Indian gurus who competed for custom among the hippies with westernised versions of their teachings. The Hare Krishnas come rather readily to mind. A couple of generations earlier, we find eastern Fakirs in Edwardian drawing rooms. But then again, all this is rather vague. How do we know what happened?
I started thinking about an obvious contender for this syncretism and assimilation: the Egyptian cult of Isis. Isis is an ancient Egyptian goddess, part of the pantheon together with Ra and Osiris and Horus and the rest. Yet there were temples of Isis in Rome itself, and elsewhere in the empire. Surely this would be an excellent candidate cult for examination? After all, we can learn a lot about the pre-Graeco-Roman cult from Ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions; and then we have a goodish amount of material from the Roman period.
So thinking, I naturally wanted to know just what the data base for the cult of Isis in the Roman world was. And … there I started to get stuck.
I wanted to know who the scholars are that one should read. There is, no doubt, much dross and hearsay out there. Indeed it took only one click on a Google search to find a book about “Isis and Early Christianity” or some such … how drearily predictable. A bibliography would be a wonderful thing.
For I am entirely a layman on Isis. I know nothing about it. In this respect I am just like most people. Where does one get a reading list of sound sources? Just who are the good scholars?
One wouldn’t look to Wikipedia for this; indeed if it acquired such a bibliography, some troll would delete it. And indeed the Wikipedia Isis article displays the usual mixture of hearsay and low-grade sources.
My own approach would be to read whatever I can find, and tabulate the ancient Graeco-Roman literary sources. It may not be the best way; but it is impossible to avoid learning a great deal in the process.