Did Aristocritus identify Zoroaster and Christ?

In a previous post here we discussed a medieval Christian Arabic collection of apocryphal oracles by pagan philosophers, predicting the coming of Christ.  Much of this material was discovered in 2007 by Andrew Criddle, who had a further suggestion relating to it, and what follows is his work.  I post it here because it should not be lost, and currently it survives only in an archive of a now defunct message forum.[1]

The saying with which we were concerned was one which attributed to Zoroaster a famous saying of Christ.  In the manuscript Mingana Syr. 481, it took this form:

Zoroaster the Magian said to his disciples in the Book of the Elements of Science:[3] Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, will remain in me and I in him.

Dr C. notes that this is rather like another apocryphal saying, attributed this time to Augustus, which is found in several places; in the Syriac language in Bar Hebraeus, and Dionysius bar Salibi; and in the Greek language a version of it appears in John Malalas, Chronicle, book 10, chapter 5, when Augustus consults the oracle at Delphi, and gets no reply.  Asking why, the priestess replies:

The Pythia made him the following reply, “A Hebrew child ruling as god over the blessed ones bids me abandon this abode and return to Hades. (232) So now depart from our leaders”.[2]

The oracle is also found in Ms. Mingana Syr. 481:

Augustus the wise said in the Book of Astrology: There must appear a Hebrew youth, who will be called Christ and is eternal in His essence. The Eternal will make a public appearance, having the lordly power in His hand. He will raise the dead and clean the lepers and loosen the mute tongues.

The use of pagan prophecies by Syriac writers – the Arabic is just a version of this – was studied by Sebastian Brock in a couple of articles.[3]  He believed that the various Syriac versions derived from Greek, probably translated more than once.

But Sebastian Brock also suggested that most of this “pagan oracles predicting Christ” material all goes back to a single Greek work.  This was composed around 500 AD, and had the title Theosophia.  The work was in 11 books.  The work is lost, but an excerpt is preserved in one Greek manuscript, known as the “Tübingen Theosophy”, and there are fragments in other later Greek collections based upon the Theosophia.[4]

None of the remains refer to Zoroaster.  But in the Tübingen Theosophy, there is the following remark about a now lost portion of the work.

In the fourth (or eleventh) [chapter] he mentions the oracles of a certain Hystaspes, (ChRHSEIS hUSTASPOU) who, as he said, was an extremely pious king of the Persians or Chaldeans and therefore received the revelation of the divine mysteries about the incarnation of the Savior.

A section devoted to “oracles” by a Persian is precisely where we might expect to find mention of Zoroaster.

This lost work, the Theosophia, may be the same as a work of that name by a certain Aristocritus, who is known only from a medieval Greek list of anathemas, written around 1000 AD, directed at Manichaeans.  This suggestion was first made by A Brinkmann, “Die Theosophie des Aristokritos”, in Rheinische Museum fur Philologie N F 51 (1896), p. 273-80.    Not every scholar has agreed apparently.

The list of anathemas that mentions Aristocritus is known as The Long Anathema.  The text is edited with a translation by Samuel Lieu.[5]  Here is the English (p.253):

(1468A) (l anathematize) also the book of Aristocritus, which he entitled Theosophy, in which he tries to demonstrate that Judaism, Paganism. Christianity and Manichaeism are one and the same doctrine, and so that what he says will appear plausible, he attacks Mani as evil.

But this work is itself derived from a recently 6th century work, anonymous but probably by Zacharias of Mitylene, known as the Seven Chapters.  It was found in 1977 by Marcel Richard on Mount Athos, in Ms. Vatopedianus 236.  Lieu edits and translates this (p.252):

In addition to all these I anathematize in the same way that most atheistic book of Aristocritus which he entitled Theosophy, through which he tries to demonstrate that Judaism, Paganism and Christianity and Manichaeism are one and the same doctrine, with no other ulterior motive than to make all men Manichaeans, as far as he can.   For indeed he, like Manichaeus, in it makes Zarades a God who appeared, as he himself says, among the Persians and calls him the sun and Our Lord Jesus Christ, even if for the sake of deceiving and ensnaring those who come across his book which it would be more appropriate to call his “Heretical infatuation” (theoblabeia) and at the same lime his “Derangement” (phrenoblabeia), he gives the appearance of upbraiding Manichaeaus.

Dr C. comments:

This clearly indicates that Aristocritus (whether or not really a Manichaean) regarded Zoroaster and Christ as the same divine being making it plausible that in his Theosophia he would attribute things to Zoroaster originally attributed to Christ.

This then may be the original source of our saying from the Mingana manuscripts.

Interesting idea!  My thanks to Andrew Criddle for this very learned suggestion.

  1. [1]Link here:  http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread6a92.html?t=216293&page=13
  2. [2]The Chronicle of John Malalas, Byzantina Australiensia 4, p.123
  3. [3]S. Brock, “Some Syriac Excerpts from Greek Collections of Pagan Prophecies”, Vigilae Christianae 38 (1984) pps 77-90 and “A Syriac collection of Prophecies of the Pagan Philosophers”, Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica XIV Leuven (1983). Reprinted in Studies in Syriac Christianity (1992).
  4. [4]See H Erbse, Fragmente griechischer Theosophien, Hamburg (1941), and Theosophorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Teubner (1995).
  5. [5]Samuel N. C. Lieu, Manichaeusm in Mesopotamia & the Roman East, Brill (1999).

Did Mithras say “He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood…”?

In 1999 two journalists named Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy published a book called The Jesus Mysteries:  Was the “original Jesus” a pagan god?  The book appealed to a “new atheist” demographic, and material from it could be found online throughout the 2000’s.

On p.49 they made the following claim, in the middle of a series of claims about similarities between Mithras and Jesus:

An inscription reads: He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.[183]

The footnotes reads “Godwin J. (1981), 28”.  Freke and Gandy liked this so much that they repeated it in abbreviated form on the first page of their book.

The claim is actually false.  In 2007 in a now defunct message forum, the question was explored.  Dr Andrew Criddle did most of the work, and posted his findings.[1]  I wrote up a page of notes which somehow vanished from the web.  I have restored it here, but it’s rather dense, and disappears into various rabbit holes.  So let’s go through the key points.


Our first port of call is the reference, which turns out to J. Godwin, Mystery Religions of the Ancient World, 1981.  It seems that Freke and Gandy did not trouble to read carefully, for Godwin’s words are:

A Persian Mithraic text, amazingly reminiscent of Jesus’s words, states that ‘he who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.’

But there is no footnote.

The Actual Source – Vermaseren

The actual source is a publication by the Mithraic scholar, M. Vermaseren, The Secret God, London (1963).  On p.103-4 appears the following claim:

Justin records that on the occasion of the meal the participants used certain formulae (μετ’ ἐπιλόγων τινῶν) comparable with the ritual of the Eucharist, and in this connection mention may be made of a medieval text, published by Cumont, in which of Christ is set beside the sayings of Zarathushtra. The Zardasht speaks to his pupils in these words: ‘He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation….’ Compare this with Christ’s words to his disciples: ‘He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood shall have eternal life.’ In this important Persian text lies the source of the conflict between the Christians and their opponents, and though of later date it seems to confirm Justin’s assertion.

There is no footnote.

This is a poor English translation of the original Dutch text, a popular paperback, Mithras de geheimzinnige god, Elsevier (1959), which on pp.82-3 reads:

Justinus vermeldt dat de maaltijd gepaard ging met enige formules (met’ epilogoon tinon).” Ook deze kunnen veel gelijkenis vertoond hebben met die van het Avondmaal. Een middeleeuwse tekst, welke door Cumont werd gepubliceerd, is in dit verband bijzonder interessant. Want hierin wordt de waarheid van Christus gesteld tegenover het woord van Zarathustra; deze Zardasht sprak nog tot zijn leerlingen: ‘Wie niet van mijn lichaam zal eten en van mijn bloed zal drinken, zodat hij zich met mij vermengt en ik mij met hem vermeng, die zal het heil niet hebben…’. Maar Christus sprak tot zijn leerlingen: ‘Wie Mijn Lichaam eet en Mijn bloed drinkt, zal het eeuwig leven hebben.’ Deze belangrijke tekst plaatst ons midden in de strijd tussen de Christenen en hun tegenstanders en kan, hoewel laat in datum, misschien de bewering van Justinus bevestigen.

Note how the original Dutch speaks of “this Zardasht” (“deze Zardasht”), where the English translation reads “the Zardasht”, which makes it sound like a book, perhaps the Zardusht-nama; and “this important text” (“Deze belangrijke tekst”), not “this important Persian text”.  There are other errors to mislead the reader.

The Cumont Article

Andrew Criddle discovered that the unnamed article used by Vermaseren was F. Cumont, “Un Bas-Relief Mithriaque du Louvre”, Revue Archeologique 25 (1946), 183-195.   At the end, on p.193-5, he refers to an Arabic manuscript in Syriac characters (Garshuni) in the Mingana collection in Birmingham:[2]

Un passage étrange d’une œuvre tardive vient peut-être suppléer à la réticence de Justin, qui s’est fait scrupule de reproduire les formules païennes. Un manuscrit arabe en caractères syriaques (karshounî) de la Bibliothèque de Birmingham [3] contient une homélie ou une lettre pastorale, dont le thème est de mettre en parallèle les prétentions fausses des Juifs et des Mages et la puissance véritable du christianisme. Le motif qui y est reproduit avec une rigueur monotone est que le démon a fait accomplir aux infidèles une série de prodiges, mais qu’à ces faux miracles, Dieu en a opposé de vrais.

Venait à parler des Mages, l’auteur inconnu assure que Zoroastre ayant fondé des pyrées, exhorta ses sectateurs à se jeter dans le feu, et qu’ils semblèrent y périr dans les flammes; puis qu’en étant sortis sains et saufs, ils parurent ressusciter, mais ce n’était là qu’une illusion produite par des sortilèges. Or le Christ se mesura avec Zoroastre et, en ressuscitant réellement les morts, rendit vaine la propagande des Mages dans le monde entier.

Puis l’écrivain chrétien ajoute : « Ce Zardasht dit encore à ses disciples : Qui ne mangera pas de mon corps et ne boira pas de mon sang, de manière qu’il se mélange à moi et que je me mélange à lui, celui-là n’aura pas le salut… Mais le Christ dit à ses disciples : Qui « mange mon corps et boit mon sang, aura la vie éternelle. »

3. A. Mingana, Catalogue of the Mingana collection of manuscripts (Birmingham. Selley Oak colleges library) Cambridge. 1933. Ms. Mingana, n° 142, ff. 48 à 61. — Notre attention a été attirée sur ce manuscrit par le Père Vosté, dont l’érudition d’orientaliste nous a une fois de plus fait profiter de ses découvertes. Notre ami M. Levi délia Vida a bien voulu se charger de traduire pour nous, avec sa compétence éprouvée, l’ouvrage Karsunî qui nous intéressait, et qu’il s’est réservé d’étudier plus en détail au point de vue de ses sources et de sa date. La guerre a malheureusement interrompu ses recherches ; provisoirement, espérons-le.
1. Nous reproduisons ici la traduction de ce que dit des Mages cette œuvre difficilement accessible, et parfois peu compréhensible ; F. 158 b : …

In English:

A strange passage in a late work may perhaps compensate for the reticence of Justin, who scrupled to reproduce the pagan formulae. An Arab manuscript in Syriac characters (Karshuni) of the Library of Birmingham [3] containing a homily or pastoral letter, the theme of which is to put side by side the false pretentions of the Jews and Magians and the true wisdom of Christianity. The motif which is repeated with monotonous rigour, is that the devil has accomplished a series of miracles among the unbelievers, but, to these false miracles, God has opposed true ones.

Speaking about the Magi, the unknown author asserts that Zoroaster, having built pyres, exhorted his followers to throw themselves into the fire, and that they would seem to perish in the flames; and then coming out safe and well, they would appear to have come back from the dead, but this was only an illusion produced by magic spells. But Christ measured himself against Zoroaster, and by really bringing people back from the dead, made the propaganda of the Magi in the whole world pointless.

Then the Christian writer adds: “This Zardasht again says to his disciples: whoever does not eat of my body and does not drink of my blood, so that he mixes with me and I mix with him, he will not have salvation… But Christ says to his disciples: Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will have eternal life.

3. A. Mingana, Catalogue of the Mingana collection of manuscripts (Birmingham, Selley Oak colleges library) Cambridge, 1933. Ms. Mingana, n° 142, ff. 48 – 61. — Our attention was drawn to this manuscript by Fr. Vosé, whose erudition as an orientalist has again allowed us to profit from his discoveries. Our friend Mr. Levi della Vida agreed to undertake to translate the Karshuni work which interested us, with his proven competence, and he proposed to study in it more detail and determine its sources and date. The war has unfortunately halted his research; let us hope, only temporarily.

I have highlighted the important bits.

The source – Ms. Mingana Syr. 142, ff.48-61

Cumont tells us nothing much about the text other than that it is a) Christian, b) written in Arabic.  This is because he doesn’t know.  He is reliant on Giorgio Levi della Vida for his information.  In fact della Vida did send him a typewritten translation, on 6 pages, of which the first 4 pages are preserved among Cumont’s papers at the Academia Belgica in Rome.  The other two pages – the interesting ones – were no doubt tucked into a book by Cumont and are now lost.

The Mingana catalogue tells us that the manuscript itself was written around 1690, but that tells us nothing about the date of the text.  It also tells us that the text contains apocryphal quotations from Aristotle.

Back in 2008 I contacted the Mingana library, and obtained a copy of the text, and a translation was made for us by Martin Zammit.  Here are the materials:

Since we have an English translation, we can look at it.  Here is the relevant section:

As regards the sect of the Magians, we also mention to you what Zoroaster did in the days of ‘Adyūn (sic), the eighty-second king since Adam. He opened the temples of fire and made manifest miracles which attracted souls to obey him. Among his signs (he used to do the following): he used to be where the people were, so that they find themselves in the temples of fire, and those who look on think that they got burnt. All that was an act of magic. After (some) time the people were seeing that they (f. 59a) were at fault when they were in their temples, as attested in the Book of ZBHR and in other books of the Magians. Zoroaster also said this to his disciples: “Whoever does not eat my body and drink my blood, and mixes with me and I mix with him, he shall not have salvation.” When his deeds became great and his call spread throughout existence, they boiled him and drank his brew (?). Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world, opposed them with the true resuscitation of the dead, the healing of sicknesses and diseases, the cleaning of the lepers and the evildoers, the healing of the chronically ill and the disarticulated, the expulsion of demons and the annulment of the works of Zoroaster from all existence. At the end, our Lord said to his disciples: “Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood, he shall have perpetual life.”

This is all very weird stuff.  But we can certainly see that none of this has anything to do with Mithras.

The only question remaining is what on earth this quotation from “Zoroaster”, found in a medieval Arabic Christian text, actually is.

A related Cumont Article

By 1946 Franz Cumont was a very old man.  In fact his last article was published posthumously, and Andrew Criddle discovered that, just like the previous article, it contains material about strange Arabic Christian texts.  This illuminates what we are dealing with.

The article is F. Cumont, “The Dura Mithraeum”, in: J. R. Hinnels, Mithraic Studies 1 (1971), p.151 ff.  On page 181, note 171, Cumont refers back to his 1946 article above:

171.  Justin, Apol. 1.66 (cf. TMMMM 1, p.230). On this parody of the Eucharist see my article in RA 1946 pps 183f, especially 194, where I discuss a Syriac text in which certain Magi have apparently substituted the body of Zoroaster for the flesh of the bull in their sacrificial feast. The text in question is entitled The Book of the Elements (στοιχεῖα) of the World note that precisely these elements are represented in the Mithraic versions of the banquet.

I mentioned earlier that I wrote to the Academia Belgica to locate the translation by Giorgio Levi della Vida.  But they also found a letter written by orientalist P. J. de Menasce to Franz Cumont.  It was where he had left it, tucked inside his own offprint of the 1946 RA article.  Here it is, and I’ll give a translation in a moment.


After reading the fine article in the Revue Archaeologique which you had the great kindness to send me, for which I thank you very much, I dug out some photocopies of some Mingana manuscripts which I had made in 1938, and I found a letter of yours of 3rd December 1938 where, concerning Mingana Ms. 142, you already outlined the parallel with the famous text of Justin.

Please permit me two observations:

1. One relates to the translation (of Mr. Levi della Vida) quoted in your note 1 on page 194: with the text before me, I think that it should be translated:

“After some time, the people believed that they were resurrected, and that they were found in their houses.”  The text does not say ‘house of fire’ as it says it in the phrase where the expression is, quite rightly, translated by ‘pyrée’. This signifies, I think, that, by a magical operation they were made to come back to them. However this is of no importance… No more important is the detail that numbered the folios of the manuscript 158b and 159a instead of 58b and 59a, where, for the first letter of the name of the king contemporary with Zardasht, a ‘c’ has been substituted for the ‘ (ayin).

2. The second relates to another Karshuni text of the Mingana collection, Ms. Syr. 481, which contains a parallel text which I translate for you here:

folio 225b lines 17-20: “And Zardusht the Mage says, in the Book of the Elements of the World, to his disciples: He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I remain in him.”

This mention of the book of “stoixeia” is more suggestive than the mysterious “z b h r” of manuscript 142, but may help explain the latter.

The Greek word passed into Syriac and into Arabic (istaqis or istuqus) and remains in the language of classical philosophy down to Avicenna. It is very interesting to see these texts of such late origin throw some light on the archaeology of Mithraic monuments and connect them to the literary tradition of Hellenised mages. I hope, this winter, to go to Rome and to have the opportunity to visit the Mithraea of which you speak in your article of the Academie des Inscriptions.

In offering you my thoughts here once again, I hope that you find here, Sir, assurance of my most profound respect.

Fr. P. J. de Menasce O. P.

I cannot read Cumont’s scribble, but the reference to “the book of elements” in Ms. Mingana 481 is clear enough.

This, then, is the source for Cumont’s vague statement in the 1971 “Dura Mithraeum” article.

The second Mingana manuscript – Ms. Syr. 481, ff. 221v-225v

From all this we learn that we have a second Mingana manuscript, containing much the same idea. Maybe this could clarify what we are dealing with?

The Mingana collection catalogue (page 890) tells us that there are various items in the manuscript, which is not dated.  Ours is described as follows:

Again I contacted the Mingana collection at Birmingham University, and obtained images of the relevant pages of the manuscript.  From this a transliteration and translation was kindly made by Sasha Trieger.

Here’s a short bit:

Aristotle said also in his letter to Alexander the king: Be earnest, o king, in the pursuit of the water of life. You shall not find water of life except in a Man (225v) who is to appear in the world, clothed in this world’s clothes. If you find Him, you will find the water of life with Him. He will feed you with His food from the eternal Tree of Life. Water of life will be flowing from His hands.

He said in his treatise entitled the Book of Treasures: The treasure of life is the God Adonai, who is to appear in the universe. Those in the graves will hear His voice and will rise.

Yanfus the wise said: Glory (?) to you, o thrice-blessed, who is God the eternal (?), who shall die and abolish death clearly, when He will rise after three days.

Plato the wise said: No, by Him who sent me, verily they do not know what they speak, nor what they do. By this he means the priests of the sons of Israel who deny his words cited above.

Zoroaster the Magian said to his disciples in the Book of the Elements of Science:[3] Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, will remain in me and I in him.

To the Awesome Father, and to the Son who helped and assisted, and to the Holy Spirit who perfected may there be Glory now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

This, no doubt, is the source for the material in Ms. Syr. 142, which, as the Mingana catalogue noted incorporates “apocryphal sayings” of Aristotle.  Clearly the words of “Zoroaster” are likewise taken from a collection of apocryphal sayings, just like this one.

About Sayings of the Pagan Philosophers concerning the coming of Christ

“Sayings” literature is a very specialist interest.  Some medieval Greek manuscripts that have come down to us contain collections of “sayings” of “wise men” of the past.  These collections, or different ones, also exist in Syriac, Coptic and Christian Arabic.  These “sayings” are known as “gnomologia” and much of the material in the past was printed in German.  Both the subject name and the language of scholarship have probably ensured obscurity.  The collections belong, not to the literary elite but to vulgar Greek culture.  The names of the authors on each saying could be changed, or lost.  The closest modern parallel is perhaps the joke book, where every saying tends to be attributed to Winston Churchill or Oscar Wilde after a while.  Authenticity is of no importance compared to impact.

Now part of the proof of the Christian gospel in the middle ages was that Jewish writers predicted the coming of Christ.  During this period, however, a second line of prophecy develops, from pagan philosophers.  Consequently there are collections of sayings, specifically for this purpose.  Sadly the “quotations” are all bogus.  But naturally these find their way into contemporary literature, and this seems to be exactly what has happened here.

This is already a long post, so it would not be useful here to discuss the gnomologia much further.  However there is a catalogue of unpublished Arabic Christian gnomologia in the standard handbook of Arabic Christian litterature, Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. 1, on pp.483-6, which I placed online and translated here.  This he introduces with the following words (translation mine):

The apologetical literature of the Christian orient used the doubtful evidence of falsified statements of ancient pagan authors and invented oracular sayings to confirm the divinity of Christianity and the truth of its teaching, as was also done to an almost indeterminable extent by Greek and late antique apologists.  Collections of such proofs of differing extent and with changing text also were taken into the Arabic language in theological works, where they appear both among collections of quotations and patristic citations or separately in the manuscripts.

He then lists the manuscripts that contain some of the collections.  Among these is …. Ms. Mingana Syr. 481, as given above.

Graf also gives other authors who make use of these collections.  Among these is John ibn Saba, The precious pearl, who also gives the Zoroaster quote.  Fortunately John has been printed in the Patrologia Orientalis 16.4, with a French translation.

Here’s the relevant bit, from chapter 19

Similarly, the spirit of Saturn (Zohal) appeared to a man named Zoroaster (Zarâdacht). His doctrine has been spread for one thousand five hundred years. He sent out on a mission seventy men on whom seventy spirits coming from the spirit of Saturn had come down and who invited the people to the worship of this star. Zoroaster said to them in the hour of his death: “If you do not eat my body and do not drink my blood, you will have no part in salvation.” After his demise, his disciples did therefore boil his body and drank of this turbid fluid. He thus obtained the accomplishment of what he had said to them.

It’s the same quote, transplanted into yet another unrelated work.


The claim made by Freke and Gandy is false.  No source ever suggested that Mithras uttered any such words.

Instead what we have is a medieval saying, falsely attributed to Zoroaster, preserved in Arabic.  The saying originates from a process where “quotations” were copied, edited, and “improved”, and, in the end, created a collection of sayings of pagan philosophers apparently predicting the coming of Christ.  There is no reason to attribute these words to anybody other than a too-credulous medieval Christian.  They originate in the gospel, not precede it.

UPDATE: I have just discovered a review by H.-C. Puesch, in Revue de l’histoire de religions 134 (1947), 242-244 online here, in which he makes many of the same points about this “saying”.  Puesch says that he received a letter from … Fr. P.J. de Menasce!  De Menasce apparently told Cumont about this in 1938.  He offers various corrections to the text printed by Cumont from Ms. Mingana Syr. 142, and states that the “lost Mazdaean text” referred to by Cumont was none other than the “Book of the elements” in Ms. Syr. 481.

  1. [1]The thread is archived here: http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread6a92.html?t=216293&page=13
  2. [2]I have overparagraphed this for ease of reference.

Digging for gold: the archaeology of the internet and the “Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies” (EJMS)

Back in the 1970s, following the international conferences on Mithraic studies, a rising young scholar named Richard L. Gordon created a journal specifically for Mithras studies.  He named it the Journal of Mithraic Studies, and got contributors, and supporters, and a publisher.  There was definitely a demand for such a journal, as somewhere to report the ever-increasing flow of archaeological discoveries.  The print was just typescript, but the scholarship was excellent, and the times were right for it.

But the journal failed.  Although the volume of Mithras material is great, I have read that the field proved too small to sustain a journal.

Twenty years later, the world-wide web came along, and Dr Gordon tried again.  He created a website, the Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies, and uploaded to it material from the old journal, plus new reports.  I don’t know the original website address, but it ended up at http://www.uhu.es/ejms/.  But this too failed.  Dr Gordon was ahead of his time, and the infrastructure and acceptance for such a venture did not exist.  So the site gradually died, and by 2016 it was gone.  The university deleted the site, and today it exists only in the Wayback When Machine archive at Archive.org.

This was a bona-fide academic site.  But it seems that there was no strategy to preserve it, and it was treated as ephemeral.

This evening I had occasion to consult a paper, on the Banjevic relief of Mithras, from volume 2 of the JMS.  Looking in the “Out-of-print” section of the archived website, I found the archaeological reports, and downloaded the right section.  The sections were all stored as zip files, containing jpgs.  Back  in 2000, the PDF format did not exist, or if it did, it was not widely used.

Next I got my 7Zip, and unpacked the zip file.  And … disaster! … the tool told me that some of the JPGs were corrupt!

Looking at the folder confirmed the problem:

The pages were partially readable; and when opened, they looked just like that – half blacked-out.  I needed pages 189-191, but 190 was one of the corrupt ones.

Archive.org takes snapshots at regular intervals.  So I hunted back, into the past, to try to find a non-corrupt version of the zip.  But it was in vain.  As soon as the files arrived on the website, they were already corrupt.  Clearly the site owners themselves had some form of problem, at that remote date, and had never checked that their files were OK.  I confess that I have never checked any file that I have uploaded, so I understand.

Resigned, I decided to OCR the pages anyway, and post online what I could read.  So I opened those files in Abbyy Finereader 14.  And then… I saw something unexpected:

The area that Windows 10 had considered corrupt, and displayed as plain white, was partially readable!  I quickly found that in fact nearly all the text could be worked out.  I have no idea what happened to produce this.  But … it was there.  In the end I only lost a couple of words of the article.

The lesson here is to use more than one tool in such a situation.

This process was really research itself.  No doubt the Journal articles might be found in some research library; but what if they had not?  What if this was an online-only journal?  Is this the future, for some of us?


A silver “votive plaque” of the 2-3rd century AD, attributed to “Mithras”

A twitter post drew my attention to an interesting item held in the British Museum since 1899.  Their catalogue page is here.  It is described as a “silver votive plaque with a figure of the god Mithras”.  Here are the pictures:

British Museum 1899,1201.3

And a zoomed in version:

Viewed up close, this is not Mithras.  Nothing about him reflects Mithraic iconography.  He is not even wearing a phrygian cap.  To me the figure looks like Attis; but I am unclear what the items that he is holding are – a dish and some sort of ball or fruit?  There seems to be an altar by his right foot, with a bird of some sort moving in front of it.  His stomach appears to be bare, which is definitely part of the iconography of Attis.

The plaque was bequeathed to the museum by Sir Arthur Wollaston Franks  in 1899.

The item is apparently catalogued in “Walters, H B, Catalogue of the Silver Plate (Greek, Etruscan And Roman) in the British Museum, London, BMP, 1921”, according to the excellent British Museum site – easily the best website of its kind known to me – and this turns out to be online at Archive.org here.  The catalogue entry is on p.59, where we read:

229. Tablet, similar. Form as the preceding. On the broad end of the leaf is a figure in relief of Mithras to the front, holding a patera in r. hand and a pine-cone in l. ; he has thick straight hair falling each side of the face, sleeved chiton and another garment over it, chlamys falling over the chest in front and caught up on the l. arm, and high boots. At his r. side is a cock to l., and behind it a small altar on which a fire burns. On the leaf are rows of raised dots.

Ht. 26 cm. Similarly acquired. Brit. Mus. Guide to Exhibition of Greek and Roman Life, p. 54, fig. 45.

The preceding two items clarify this description somewhat; they are from the same source, and are also silver votive tablets, showing Sol – definitely -, and what we are told is Luna, although why is not clear.  Both plaques have raised dots along the edge.

But the note to the “Sol” plaque adds the words: “With this were found other votive discs, now melted down.”  Of course these items come from Ottoman Turkey.  One is reminded of the way in which some of the gold found at Troy by Schliemann was stolen, and sold to a goldsmith, who melted them down and made some random Turkish-style jewellery from the metal.  So it looks as if Sir A. W. Franks purchased the items from local peasants who had uncovered them.  Whether they belong together we cannot tell.

I don’t know much about the collector, so I do not know if some travelogue exists somewhere, that explains how he acquired them.  We must just be grateful that he rescued them from the inevitable fate of precious metal in barbarous countries, and that we can look at them today.



The tomb of Aelia Arisuth in Libya

A few days ago a kind correspondent sent me details of the tomb of Aelia Arisuth, 8km west of Tripoli in Libya, which I have added to my digest of Mithras photographs.  It’s listed in the CIMRM as CIMRM 113.  The tomb contains two tomb niches, one for Aelia Arisuth herself, and one for her husband, Aelius Magnus, son of Juratanus.  General results from Google attribute the tomb to the 4th century AD.

The niche for Aelia Arisuth herself includes a painting of the lady, and spectacular decoration:

Tomb of Aelia Arisuth

The presence of two torch-bearers raised a question as to whether this was a Mithraic monument.  The tomb of Aelius Magnus includes the inscription “qui leo iacet”, and his wife “quae lea iacet”, both referring to “lion”, a grade of Mithraic initiate.  All the same there is nothing specifically Mithraic about this.

Sadly the revolution in Libya has damaged the monument.  The left torchbearer had a head before Col. Gadaffi was overthrown, as we can see in this older photograph:

Pre-war photograph

There are few photographs online.  I’ve not been there myself, although I visited Libya twice under the old regime as a tourist, so it was clearly not on the tourist trail, such as it was.

The lower register depicts two spinae, the columns at the end of a race-track, and chariots in between.

I was able to find a zoomed in picture of Aelia Arisuth herself, which must have been taken from life.

A fascinating monument.


From my diary

This week I have been away for a few days, staying in the Hilton hotel in the lovely English city of York.  The hotel was very central, so I could walk everywhere and did.  Every street was unique, and all had some tea-shops, so walking was hardly arduous.  It seems like I have been away forever, which is always a good sign.

Inevitably I did the usual tourist thing.  York Minster charges £11 per head for admission, a procedure which seemed slightly shocking.

I did attend Evensong as well, for which no charge was made.  The choir singing was perfect, of course, and it was nice to hear excellent cathedral music.  The psalms were sung, which I have not heard for years.

I read through the psalms recently, but I had forgotten that the translations of the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer are not those of the Authorised Version.  I was therefore taken with the two passages in psalm 59 where the wicked are said to “grin like a dog”!  Sadly “grin” is merely the archaic version of “groan”, i.e. “howl”, as in the AV and subsequent versions.

I also visited the Yorkshire Museum.  A length of Roman wall and tower stand in the grounds, but my interest was mainly in the Roman materials inside.  The collection was very well lit and this item caught my eye:

I always photo the museum label:

Claudius Hieronymianus, the legate of the Sixth Legion, paid for the construction of a temple to Serapis.

But of course my main interest was in two Mithraic monuments.  Both were much smaller than I had realised; a tauroctony, and a statue with the name of Arimanius on it.  This petite visitor helps us to realise the small scale of the items:

I also visited the magnificent medieval gate at Michelgate Bar:

Sadly I was unable to ascend the two flights of steps and get onto the wall, so I took refuge in this bar adjacent to it.

It was a good break.  I have now responded to all the week’s emails.  For the last few weeks I have been collecting a supply of ideas for blog posts.  I shall have to start digging into them!


Mithras in Greece – some new locations

An article online by Michael Petropoulos, “Roman interventions in the city-plan of Patras”,[refP.65, online here.[/ref], contains a paragraph about Mithras.  This I found by googling for “Μίθρα”.  The article is in Greek, but thanks to the miracle of Google Translate, we can get an idea of its contents:

Μία ακόμη ανατολική λατρεία, αυτή του Μίθρα, αν και δεν αναφέρεται από τον Παυσανία, επιβεβαιώνεται εντούτοις από την ανεύρεση αναγλύφου που φέρει παράσταση Μίθρα Ταυροκτόνου και λατινική επιγραφή 152. Και η εισαγωγή της λατρείας του Πέρση Θεού οφείλεται στους Ρωμαίους βετεράνους στρατιώτες 153, στους οποίους ο Αύγουστος παραχώρησε γαίες 154. Και αυτή η λατρεία, όπως και της Ίσιδος, είναι γνωστή και στο Αίγιο, όπου εντοπίστηκε πρόσφατα το λατρευτικό του σπήλαιο 155, το οποίο δημοσιεύτηκε από τη συνάδελφο Ε. Κόλια. Αν, πράγματι, η λατρεία του Μίθρα ήλθε στην Πάτρα με τη ρωμαϊκή μορφή της, όπως υποστηρίζει ο Ν. Παπαχατζής, τότε και ο ναός αυτός πρέπει να βρισκόταν στην περιοχή της αγοράς, σύμφωνα με όσα έχομε ήδη υποστηρίξει. Ένα υπόγειο καμαροσκέπαστο κτήριο στις οδούς Ηλείας 6 και Παναγούλη 156, ανάμεσα στην Aedes Augustalium και το κτήριο με την επιγραφή του Αγρίππα Ποστούμου στην οδό Λόντου 24, αν και δεν βοηθούν τα κινητά του ευρήματα, εντούτοις μπορεί να θεωρηθεί ότι πρόκειται για το Μιθραίο, μόνον εξαιτίας της υπόγειας μορφής του.

Which comes out as:

Another Eastern cult, that of Mithras, although not mentioned by Pausanias, is nevertheless confirmed by the finding of an embossment featuring a Mithras Tauroctonus, and a Latin inscription. 152  The introduction of the worship of the Persian God is due to the Roman veteran soldiers,153, to whom Augustus gave land 154. This cult, like that of Isis, is also known in Aigio, where his cult 155, which was published by E. Kolia, was recently located. If, indeed, the cult of Mithras came to Patra in its Roman form, as N. Papachatzis argues, then that temple should have been in the market place, according to what we have already argued. An underground vaulted building on the streets of Ilia 6 and Panagouli 156, between the Aedes Augustalium and the building with the inscription of Agrippa Kostomou at 24 Lontou street, although its movable finds are of no assiatnce, can be considered to be the Mithraeum, purely because of its underground form.

The non-Greek references for the tauroctony:

  • HERBILLON J., Les cultes de Patras, Baltimore-London (1929)
  • RIZAKIS A.D. 1998, Achaie II: La cité de Patras: Épigraphie et Histoire, (ΜΕΛΕΤΗΜΑΤΑ 25), Αθήνα. Online here.
  • OSANNA M. 1996, Santuari e culti dell’ Acaia antica, Napoli.

And for the Aigion Mithraeum:

  • KOLIA Ε., “Eine Kulturgrotte des Mithras in Aigion. Aspekte der Mithrasverehrung in Achaia”, AM 118 (2003), 398-427.

The Rizakis article tells us that  Vermaseren caught this one, that it is CIMRM 2351-2.  Fortunately I already have some details on this here.


“Persia and the Bible” … and Mithras?

Review: E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, Baker publishing (1990).  Paperback ISBN: 9780801021084. Available from: Amazon.com.

Dr Yamauchi attended the second conference on Mithras studies in Tehran, back in the 1970s.  Coming across my pages on Mithras, which referenced a couple of his papers, he kindly sent me a copy of this 1990 volume which includes a chapter on Mithras.

The volume itself is a survey aimed at Old Testament students in the USA.  It provides an overview of Persian history, religion, archaeology and culture, but not as a standalone, but rather from where it impinges on the history of the bible.  I have not read most of this, but at points it has to descend to e.g. explaining the events of the battle of Marathon – sure sign of students being the audience!  But I did skim the chapter on Zoroastrianism, about which I know a little.  This was really very well done, in a short compass, and laid out the literary sources and the key doctrines more clearly in a short compass than any source that I have seen so far.  The footnoting is copious, and well done.

The chapter on Mithras is almost an annex, really.  I think perhaps it reflects the need of the teaching environment, and functions as a round-up of “Persian” related stuff that students may enquire about, including Sol Invictus.  It starts with the assumption of the great Franz Cumont, that Roman Mithras and Persian Mithra were in fact the same deity; but then reviews the scholarship, and indicates how this has changed in what was then the recent past.  The overview of Mithra is solid, as is the material treating Mithras, and the student comes away equipped to deal with whatever is necessary.  So … useful to have.

The book is now more than 25 years old, so the bibliography is doubtless a little dated.   The prose style is quite dense, and I found it hard going.  But there is quite a lot of useful information in a relatively small compass.


A new Mithras inscription from Dacia

Csaba Szabo writes to say that a new Mithraic inscription was recovered by the police in Romania in 2015.  His blog post about it is here.  He has published the inscription at Academia.edu here,[1] which is very useful as otherwise it might be very difficult to get hold of.

The inscription is on a half-column, which reminds one rather of the item in the museum at Caerleon.

 The inscription reads:

rus ° Marci (s. or f.)
v(otum) ° s(olvit) ° l(ibens) ° m(erito)

I.e. To the unconquered Mithras, Dioscorus of Marcus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.  The “of Marcus” probably indicates servus (i.e. slave of Marcus) but possibly filius (i.e. son of Marcus).

The text is identical with that of an altar found at Apulum in 1852 (CIMRM 1943), and even the paleographic features.

Invicto / Mythrae / Diosco/rus Marci (servus) / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

So there can’t be much doubt that they were erected by the same person, and perhaps at the same place.  Unfortunately the find-spot of the new inscription was not disclosed by – or perhaps known by – the collector.

  1. [1]Csaba Szabó, Imola Boda, Victor Bunoiu, Călin Timoc, “Notes on a new Mithraic inscription from Dacia”, in: Mensa rotunda epigraphica Napocensis, Cluj-Napoca 2016, p. 91–104.

Temple of Mithras discovered at Mariana in Corsica

A previously unknown temple of Mithras has been discovered in Corsica, in Lucciana, on the site of the Roman colony of Mariana.

Tauroctony. From the Mariana Mithraeum.

French website l’Express carries the story with more care than most, from which I learn of the following details.

Mariana, a Roman colony founded around 100 BC, reached its peak in the 3rd or 4th century.  The excavations are in the peripheral area of the city, according to the Inrap (National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research) communique.  The sanctuary consists of a Mithraeum and its antechamber.

The main cult chamber as usual consists of a central aisle, dug out, with two raised benches on either side, surrounded by a lime-coated wall.  Two vaulted brick niches are present in the thickness of the benches.  One still contained three intact oil lamps.

Oil lamps from Mariana Mithraeum

At the top of the corridor was the bas-relief of Mithras, of which three fragments were found.  Other marble elements were found, including the head of a woman.  Two bronze bells, many broken lamps, and some jars of fine paste could be liturgical furniture.

Mariana Mithraeum – bronze bell

A plaque of bronze and another of lead bear inscriptions which remain to be decyphered.  The exact causes of the destruction of the sanctuary are unknown.

There is more stuff at the Inrap site here.