I love modern legends. They have been the stimulus for much of what I have done online. The effort to research, access and document has given me many happy hours.
This morning I was sitting in front of the monitor, looking for inspiration and stimulation. Then a Google Groups search on Mithras brought up this gem:
Christ: The Greeks used both the word Messias (a transliteration) and Christos (a translation) for the Hebrew Mashiach (Anointed). The word Christos is far more acceptable to some Pagans who worship Chreston and Chrestos. According to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, the word Christos was easily confused with the common Greek proper name Chrestos, meaning “good.” According to a French theological dictionary, it is absolutely beyond doubt that Christus and Chrestus, and Christiani and Chrestiani were used indifferently by the profane Christian authors of the first two centuries AD The word Christianos is a Latinism, being contributed neither by the Jews nor by the Christians themselves. The word was introduced from one of three origins: the Roman police, the Roman populace, or an unspecified Pagan origin. Its infrequent use in the New Testament suggests a Pagan origin. According to Realencyclopaedie, the inscription Chrestos is to be seen on a Mithras relief in the Vatican. According to Christianity and Mythology, Osiris, the Sun God of Egypt, was reverenced as Chrestos..
The only “reference” for all these claims is to a post in a closed forum.
If you search around the web for this stuff, you will find it repeated endlessly. Some even add after the bold phrase “(I’ve seen it myself)” although since this too is repeated, one wonders just who the author was.
One claim caught my eye: the claim about the RE. After much searching, I found a slightly different version here:
Who was this Chrestos or Chreston with which Christos became confused with?
We have already seen that Chrestos was a common Greek proper name, meaning “good.” Further we see in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopaedie, under “Chrestos,” that the inscription Chrestos is to be seen on a Mithras relief in the Vatican. We also read in J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology, p. 331, that Osiris, the Sun-deity of Egypt, was reverenced as Chrestos. We also read of the heretic Gnostics who used the name Chreistos.
OK, so what does the RE say about “Chrestos”?
Well, in the 6th half-volume (band III.2) the entry appears in columns 2449-2450, giving a list of people known by that name:
A praetorian prefect under Alexander Severus (Dio. epit. book 80, 2:2), also given as prefect of Egypt in a papyrus fragment, where his name appears as Geminus Chrestus.
A Roman geographer, mentioned by John the Lydian in De Mensibus IV 68 (p. 98ff of the Bonn edition) as talking about the Nile.
An officer under Constans (Aurelius Victor, epit. 41, 22) ca. 350 AD.
An African grammarian, ca. 357, mentioned in Jerome’s Chronicle under AA 2374. But one manuscript gives the name as Charistus.
A pupil of Herodes Atticus at Byzantion, working as a sophist and teacher in the second half of the second century. (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, p. 98, l.15 of Kayser’s edition).
And after that, we find the following entry:
6) Auf Grund der Inschrift eines Mithrasreliefs im Vatican (Cumont Mitras inscr. nr. 39; mon. fig. nr. 31) Χρῆστος πατὴρ καὶ Γαῦρος ἐποίησαν früher für einen Künstler gehalten. Doch bezeichnet, wie zuerst Brunn Künstlergesch. I 611 gesehen hat, ἐποίησαν nur die Weihung, πατὴρ im Mithraskult ein priesterlicher Titel ist. Kaibel IGI 1272. Loewy Inschr. griech. Bildh. 457. [C. Robert.]
6) On the base of an inscription of a Mithras relief in the Vatican (Cumont, Mithras, inscrip. 39; mon. fig. 31) Χρῆστος πατὴρ καὶ Γαῦρος ἐποίησαν was previously taken for the name of an artist. But it is now recognised, as Brunn saw in Künstlergesch. I 611, that ἐποίησαν refers to the consecration, and πατὴρ is a title for a priest in the Mithras cult. Kaibel IGI 1272. Loewy Inschr. griech. Bildh. 457. [C. Robert]
Indeed the text says:
Χρῆστος πατὴρ καὶ Γαῦρος ἐποίησαν
Chrestus the Pater and Gaurus made [this].
Let’s look at Cumont. I found the stuff in vol. 2 of Textes et Monumentes, in p.211 in the section on Rome, which I had great difficulty navigating.
31. Bas-relief de marbre blanc [L. 0.71m, H. 0.41m, Ep. 0.05m], conservé au musée du Vatican, Galleria scoperta, n° 416 [doit être déplacé].
Cité : Zoega, p. 149, n° 15; cf. Kaibel, ISI, n° 1272.
Mithra tauroctone dans la grotte avec le chien, le serpent, le scorpion et le corbeau, mais sans les dadophores. Dans les coins supérieurs, à gauche, Sol sur un quadrige, à droite Luna sur un char traîné par deux taureaux. Dans les coins inférieurs, de chaque côté, un cyprès grossièrement dessiné. En dessous l’inscription n° 39.
Brisé en deux morceaux, mais sans restauration importante. Travail médiocre.
And the inscription itself is on p.100
39. Kaibel, ISI, 1272. — Voyez le monument n° 31.
Χρῆστος πατὴρ καὶ Γαῦρος ἐποίησαν.
Non videntur artifices esse Chrestus et Gaurus cf. Brunn, Hist. art., I, 611, qui cum recte iam Rochettius vidisset Chrestum fuisse patrem Mithrae, verbum ἐποίησαν ita explicabat ut esset consacraverunt [Kaibel].
It’s a tauroctony, in other words, a relief showing Mithras killing the bull, which has the inscription beneath. All it shows is that a priest named Chrestus set up the relief. It happens to be in the Vatican museum, but has no ancient connection specified with that location.
As ever, once we know the facts and return to the context of the original claim, we see that the reader is being misled by a statement which, literally true, is nevertheless guaranteed to mislead everyone to suppose that “Chrestos” is another name for “Mithras”.