Deus deorum

19 10 2008

Christ as the Fulfilment of Pagan Theology

In the past, I have criticized the “grand march of monotheism” view of history. In this view, people agonizingly climbed their way out of a mental cave that is haunted by spirits, ghosts, gods, and all of the other usual suspects in the polytheistic cosmos. Little by little, one small group of people, the Hebrews, grew out of this worldview to realize that their was only one God, and all of the other religions were either superstition or the manipulation of devils. Even from the founding of the Church, we are becoming more monothesitic, more Biblical, and more knowledgeable about the Christian religion as time passes. People feel, for example, that St. Anselm’s idea of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ on the Cross was a remnant of the pagan ethos: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would never demand blood from His own Son in payment for the sins of the world. We know the Gospel better since we are farther away from the pagan past. We have cleaned the outside of our vessels. We have whitened our sepulchers. We have a better idea of God than our ancestors.

 
Under the influence of devotio moderna, modern man has thus learned to read the Gospel like a novel, and Jesus, the protagonist, is seen as the dreamy hero that we should identify with. We want to know all the details, we want to know what He was like, and reading the Bible is all about getting to know “our buddy Jesus” and all the cool things He said about loving each other and behaving ourselves. The Gospels “speak to me”, they were written to be understood and popularized. Sure, there are all sorts of bizarre things in them, like how many fish the Apostles caught on a fishing trip or how the disciples distributed the loaves and fishes, but these are irrelevant details. What does any of that have to do with having good feelings about Jesus and getting to Heaven?

David Fideler in his book, Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism, asserts that, despite protests to the contrary, Christianity is an outgrowth of pagan Greek mystery religions, and the paper trail for this is all over the Gospels. While not a believer, he is far from a 19th century rationalist or a new Jack Chick. In fact, many of his “pagan” sources actually have their origin in late Jewish esoteric teachings. The fact is that the Gospel was written in Greek with a vocabulary that was thousands of years in the making. Although he is not an advocate of mainstream Christianity, he nevertheless sees Christ as being the fulfillment of pagan aspirations for the re-birth of the world through a divine Savior.

Central to Fideler’s thesis is the lost ancient art of gematria. Since in ancient languages the letters of the alphabet were also used to represent numbers, names were seen as having a numerical value often communicating cosmic and mystical insights. In ancient Greek religious thought, the names of the gods were sacred not just because they were ancient, but also because they were numerically significant: they revealed the harmonies that govern the cosmos. Hermes and Apollo for example had names that signified the sacred geometry that was characteristic of the divine Logos. The value of the Greek letters of the sun god Mithras came to 360, and in some cases an additional letter was tacked on to make it an even 365: the number of days in the year. Temples were built to the measures of gematria based on the names of the gods. The sum of the letters of the Greek transliteration of the name of the Jewish carpenter from Galilee and Christian Savior came to 888, the number of musical harmony, perfection, and the sun. In this way, Fideler asserts that Christ was taking up the mantle of pagan solar deities, the sun being the visible icon of the invisible Sun that shines upon all things.

Many of Fideler’s explanations would seem specious and far-fetched to the 21st century audience, though this is probably due to our own expectations and prejudices as modern readers. In the book, there are fairly plausible explanations using Euclidian geometry of how many Gospel stories, aside from being morally edifying tales, are also coded messages illustrating the sacred mathematics of the cosmos and the Logos behind it. My lack of expertise and the format of this essay would not do justice to his explanations, so I can only refer the reader to the book itself for more details. Needless to say, there are many smoking guns in the Gospel that one cannot merely resign to the literary idea of narrative detail. Why were 5000 men seated in groups of 150? Why were 153 fish caught in an unbroken net by the Apostles? Why was Christ’s birth around the end of the Age of Aries and the start of the Age of Pisces, and was this the reason why the figures of the lamb and the fish were so prominent in early Christian art? Is there more going on here than we realize?

When ancient people read a text, they expected it to hide as much as it revealed.  As any casual reader of sacred texts will realize, clarity and readibility are not two literary virtues to which ancient authors aspired. Stories and sayings could indeed be edifying, entertaining, and informative, but they could also have various levels of meaning to them not easily noticed by the casual reader. For some, the “carnal” meaning would be enough, as the early Christian writer Origen would put it, so that “in hearing they would not hear” and in understanding they would not understand. Others would see passed this towards a broader message that would reveal “gnosis”, a deeper meaning not necessarily associated with the heretical sects that would become the latter day villains of orthodox Christianity. It was expected that not all would be able to capture the deeper meaning, and this attitude came primarily from the nature of the text itself. Such ideas are found in the Gospels in multiple places.

No doubt even then people had tender feelings toward the Savior of the world and the Redeemer of mankind. What would have been more important to them, however, was the fact that Jesus Christ was indeed the Logos made visible, coming to set up His tent in our midst. That Logos would have been the same that orders the universe, makes the stars dance their near ageless choreography in the heavens, and underlies every pattern of beauty and harmony in the cosmos. For many early Christians, the Jewish preacher and folk healer was not some invader coming to demolish the pagan vision of the world. He was coming, rather, to fulfill it.

The early Christians themselves contributed to this idea in their artwork. In some catacombs, Christ is portrayed sitting and holding a lyre: a visual invocation of the image of Orpheus who could tame all things with the harmony of music. The early Christian symbol of the fish was also associated with the solar deity Apollo, who had a pond of sacred fish at Delphi and whose sacred animal was the dolphin. The Christian imagery of the Good Shepherd also played off of images of the god Hermes, also a symbol of the Logos, who was portrayed as a shepherd who led souls out of the underworld, and the value of whose name (353) is one number more than the value of the Greek phrase, “the Way” (352). While these early Christians knew that they were breaking radically from a spiritually dead pagan past, they saw themselves doing so by fulfilling all that was noble and true about that past, not by completely negating it.

It is strange how in our day and age, we are uncomfortable at the thought that the pantheon of our fathers in Faith and truth could also include such figures as Orpheus, Hermes Trismegistus, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato.  Some of the Fathers of the Church and divines of the High Renaissance were perfectly at peace with the idea that the prisca theologia passed down from Adam contained truths that prepared the way for the full revelation of the Divine Logos, and in many ways it was superior to the forms of knowing that were contemporary to them. Many would say that what I have said here is borderline Gnosticism. I would argue, to the contrary, that the real Gnosticism lies in denying the idea that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just the completion of the Jewish Old Testament, but of classical paganism as well. This is not merely to speak of “philosohical forms” such as the dialectical method of Socrates, but also of the astrological aspirations, the ritualistic gestures, and the divine symbols that had been passed down since time immemorial. To deny this would be to deny the very divinity and splendor of the Logos Incarnate, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who fills all things with His beauty and light.


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8 responses

5 02 2019
Iamblichus

Reblogged this on Reditus and commented:

Another re-run

31 10 2008
vincent

A very interesting article, and also te comments.

Best Regards,

Vincent

28 10 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Whew! That was some complicated stuff. Sadly, a lot of it was over my head.

28 10 2008
AG

With the modern emphasis on Christianity as an outgrowth of Judaism, I find it rather provocative to consider that the New Testament points to Christ not only as the Jewish Messiah but also, for the pagan audience, the fulfillment of their mythology.

The modern interpretations I’ve encountered for the amount of detail in Mark 6:30-44 and John 21:3-11 (the feeding of the 5000 and the fish in the unbroken net respectively) was that it proves the veracity of the Gospels: look at the Gospel authors providing journalistic (though irrelevant) detail to their accounts. Therefore, we can know that all these events really took place because this reads just like the New York Times! However, to read these accounts – and the use of names and images – as “hidden” language to the Greek pagan audience is way more interesting, and it seems to me, a lot more likely.

(Note: I know absolutely nothing about gematria or how the ancients applied those principles to their stories. I’m also putting in quotes words that are straight from the Gospel account.)

I’ll focus on Fideler’s dissection of Mark 6:30-44 as an example of his approach:

“5000 men in a field” can be represented geometrically as a square consisting of 5000 sq units. Each side of the square would then be 70.7 units long, and 707 equals the value of ‘The god Hermes’ in Greek, who was also the god of shepherds. Ah, and in the same passage, “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The perimeter of the square would be 282.8 units, and 282 is the value of ‘Bios,’ life. Fideler interprets the added details “and they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties” to pertain to the square that is formed – the diagonal of the square is 100, the half-diagonal therefore 50.

Now to divide “two fish among the 5000,” form two fish in the above square by drawing three identical circles, the diameter of each being 70.7 units, so that one circle fully fits in the square and the other two meet at the center of the square. Now we have two vesica piscis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesica_piscis whose vesica measures 61.2 units, or 122.4 when added together, and 1224 is the value of ‘fishes’ in Greek. Each vesica then has a perimeter of 1480, the value of ‘Christos’. And there’s more – the radius to intersections of circles and square now adds up sequentially to the values of ‘Hermes,’ ‘the god Hermes,’ ‘Apollo,’ ‘the God Apollo’ in Greek. The circumference of all three circles now adds to 666, the sum of the magic square of the sun. And if you draw a big circle around the whole diagram, its circumference is 444, one more than ‘the Logos.’

Next, add the “five loaves.” Here it gets a lot more complicated, and I am unsure of how Fideler arrived at his conclusion for how to draw the next part of this rather complicated diagram. He draws a hexagon inside one of the above circles that holds a circle with circumference 192.3 (1923 is ‘Christ, the Logos’) and then draws five identical overlapping circles in that circle. Their total circumference is then 481 units, the value of ‘loaves.’

Now if you draw 12 arcs in the top circle (one that formed the fish), you have 12 baskets, and the 12 arcs that comprise them measure 74 units each, and 74 times 12 is 888, ‘Jesus.’

That sounds (and reads) ridiculously complicated, and it’s up to the reader to decide whether all of these overlaps are mere coincidence – again, read the book if you want painstaking detail. He likewise diagrams John 21:3-11.

Another interesting name detail: the value of ‘Cephas’ (John 1:42; the Aramaic word of rock) is 729. 729 is one of the numbers of the sun and the number of a temple to Apollo (Delphonion). It is also mentioned by Plato (a tyrant is 729 times worse than the good man) and for Socrates it was a number “closely concerned with human life.”

If you form a cube of 729 units, the total surface area is 486, the value of ‘petra.’

Now were the ancient pagans hearing all this and using gematria and drawing diagrams and then exclaiming, “Oh yes, He is indeed the fulfillment of our pagan theology!” I have no idea. But in a time when the usual explanation offered for the early rapid spread of Christianity, besides the Holy Spirit, is that the message of Christ was just so rosy, touchy-feely, and likeable – according to today’s commentators – it’s such a relief to consider that there was a lot more to the picture. I should go read St. Justin Martyr again.

25 10 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Thank you, Eclectic Pythagorean. I apologize that your comment got marked as spam somehow. I think we would be better off as Christians if we stopped thinking of ourselves as separate from other religions, rather than connected to all of them on very deep levels. Time to get our mind out of the strip-malls and mega churches and back to the Gothic cathedrals and temples of the past.

25 10 2008
The Eclectic Pythagorean

You bring up some very crucial points concerning monotheism and devotio moderna. While not Christian myself, I have always been amazed by the common conception that we have evolved to greater heights than our Greek, Roman, Assyrian or Egyptian forefathers. While we are obviously at a much greater technological advantage, I question whether our wisdom is even in the same ballpark as our ancestors.

BTW, I am really enjoying reading your blog. I really appreciate the way you keep a balance in your approach. Salus.

22 10 2008
Sarx » Blog Archive » Refuting the March of Monotheism

[…] just like the Westerners did brings me a total suprise and joy. As does reading Arturo’s post pointing us in an entirely different direction (as the Fathers do): that God was working in all those religions to bring us to himself in Jesus. I would argue, to the […]

20 10 2008
random Orthodox chick

I didn’t think that the numbers or the pagan symbols were “a tough pill to swallow” in modern Christian thought (not just secular authors writing about Christianity, but Christian), or that they made people uncomfortable. Maybe I’ve been talking to the right people 🙂

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