Re: Meri, Mary and the Mother of the Saviour

Meri, Mary and the Mother of the Saviour by Stephen J. Bedard

And my response:

Those are good criticisms. D.M. Murdock responds to them, but you’d have to be the judge of how well she does.

The main point probably is that, by the Christian era, Isis was one of the most (if not the most) well known Egyptian deity, and one of the most widely worshipped in the Roman Empire. So, it’s possible that the term Meri was beginning to be identified with her. However, Isis (and Isis syncretizations) were referred with meri and similar terms all the way through the centuries prior to Rome being Christianized.

Even though the Egyptian term Meri could refer to even inanimate objects, I don’t know if there is any evidence that Jews and Romans would’ve been familiar with that meaning. It probably would’ve been most known as an epithet or, as Murdock argues, maybe even as a name. Very few non-Egyptians could tell an ipethet or a name apart when it was stated both as Isis-Meri and Meri-Isis. Murdock sees evidence that Meri was beginning to be used by itself.

As for the second problem, Mary isn’t used exclusively for either Egyptians or for Jews. Mary was a common name for Pagan goddesses. So, it isn’t surprising that it was a popular name for people as well. As for the 6 Marys of the NT, Murdock mentions this and hypothesizes a possible connection to 6 Hathors (as Hathor was the goddess of love that became identified with Isis).

All of this is is just one tiny aspect of the mythicist theory. It doesn’t stand or fall on one single detail. Meri is just a possible connection that many reputable scholars have written about. There are many other possible connections that mythicists point out. As the possible connections increase so does the probability of those connections.

Response to Bedard’s Hellenistic Influence and the Resurrection

 Stephen J. Bedard posted a blog where he linked to an article of his that was published in Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

 http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2008/12/11/hellenistic-influence-and-the-resurrection/

 HELLENISTIC INFLUENCE ON THE IDEA OF RESURRECTION

IN JEWISH APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

http://www.jgrchj.net/volume5/JGRChJ5-9_Bedard.pdf

I must say I was very impressed with that article.  It is exactly the kind of scholarship that interests me.  You did a good job of conveying the complexity of the Graeco-Roman world.  You showed the subtle connections that are missed by thinking of religions as being entirley isolated from eachother.

I haven’t read as much about Judaism, and so I was glad to see you go into some detail about the Jewish beliefs about the afterlife.  I knew Judaism had contact with Hellenism, but I’m not very familiar with the specifics beyond having read about Philo.

I noticed you mentioned Set and Osiris.  Murdock writes about some theories of Set.  Based on several quotes from scholars, she proposes that Set was originally the Samaritan god Seth, and that Seth entered Egyptian religion when the Samaritans conquered Egypt.  The scholars she refers to are: James Bonwick, Dr. Samuel Sharpe, Dr. Louis Herbert Gray and Rev. Dr. Sayce

She also points out that Set originally wasn’t considered evil, but only later became the opponent of Osiris by playing a negative role in his death and resurrection story.  Interestingly, Osiris and Set were considered brothers and were even combined as the dual god, Horus-Set.

Murdock doesn’t write about this, but I see a potential connection with the Coptic Gospel of Thomas attributed to Didymos Judas Thomas.  I was reading elsewhere that, in later tradition, Judas “the twin” was considered the twin of Jesus.  This isn’t to say that Set was a direct borrowing superimposed upon Judas.  But, in the way you demonstrate in your article, Set may have been an influence on certain traditions about understanding Judas’ role.

The following quote from your article reminded me of something else that Murdock writes about.

“For a long time, the Egyptian idea of resurrection would have held little attraction for the Hebrews as it originally was a privilege only for the Pharaoh, and later for the very wealthy who could afford the elaborate burial procedures. However, the Middle Kingdom brought great theological advancements…”

Prior to the New Kingdom, love (mri) was bestowed upon a subordinate by a superior which also included by a god bestowing love to a follower, but this was strictly hierarchical except in certain situations such as a leader being beloved by his people.  With the New Kingdom, love became a more common ideal where the follower could offer love to a god.  There was an equality in that the person could, through love, join with their god.  It was at this time that the epithet meri became extremely popular and was applied widely, in particular with Isis. 

This is where Murdock points out that there is good evidence for an etymological connection not only between meri and Christian Mary but also meri and Jewish Miriam.  She references a couple of sources that hypothesize that Miriam may have been an Egyptian name (the Catholic Encyclopedia and an editor’s note in Faiths of Man by Major-General James G.R. Forlong).  She also references Rev. Dr. William Robertson Smith as connecting Miriam with Meri, and references Rev. Henry Tomkins as connecting Mary and Meri.  Furthermore, she references both Dr. James Karl Hoffmeier and Alan H. Gardiner as connecting both Mary and Miriam with Meri.

Origins of Christian Values

I’ve been writing a fair amount about the mythological parallels between Christianity and previous religions, but I haven’t written much about how this relates to values.  Christians could argue that the mythological similarities are just superficial details.  It is true that details are just details and in some ways Christians did put those details together in a new way.  Then again, so has every other religion.  Despite literalist Christians insistence on worshipping a particular narrative, a story is still just a story.  What actually matters is the values out of which the story formed.

There are several traditions that influenced Christian moral and theological beliefs.  I went into great detail about Augustine who was influenced by Gnosticism, NeoPlatonism, and Stoicism among other traditions. 

Many Gnostics had an ascetic attitude towards the material world and the body.  The Christian mistrust of sexuality is based in this.  Also, this is part of the Hellenistic atmosphere in general.  Egyptian and Greek philosophy had elements of dualism.  NeoPlatonism gave Christianity its love for higher truth and reality where God is absolute, but also NeoPlatonism offered the hope of an intuitive knowing, a faith that God would reveal himself.  Stoicism in particular lent an ascetic bent to Christianity with its ethics of Natural Law (which is particularly important as modern Democracy is built upon it).  Zoroastrianism created the extreme dualism of dark and light, good and evil; and this emphasized God as being in polar opposition to evil.  This was conceived as a battle for souls where God was fated to win. 

This metaphor of light and dark was part of the solar theology that had become popular prior to the common era.  Egypt had a major hand in popularizing solar theology which portrayed God as being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  God according to solar theology was both far away and yet close like the sun and sunlight.  God was present to his believers and responsive to their prayers.  God was in the world as light shines in the dark and yet above the world unsullied by the material realm.  Egyptian religion also made the distinction between God who created the sun and the sun itself as the solar disk.  God was the spiritual light that could be experienced within. 

Along with Judaism, all of these traditions had concepts of monotheism or monism.  Egyptian religion is the earliest known example of monotheism.

Another element is savior theology which was very popular in all cultures at the time.  These saviors were conqurerors of evil.  They were teachers, healers and miracle workers.  They offered themselves as examples to live by and they acted as guides, as mediators, as shephards.  As godmen, they stood between earth and heaven.  They were personally accessible to prayers and they acted as guardians.  Saviors are resurrection deities that provide the pathway of rebirth for their followers.  As tradition says of Jesus, some of these saviors even go down into the underworld before ascending.

Related to saviors, were their virgin mothers.  Godmen tended to have strange conceptions and births.  The concept of their mothers being virgins doesn’t make sense rationally or scientifically, but it symbolizes deep archetypal truths.  These virgin mothers are fertility deities (even when made into historical figures).  As such, they are virgins because their fertility is eternal and infinite, their purity and goodness is inviolable.  They are the source out of which all life emerges.  The birth of the savior is the birth of us all.  The savior is similar to the first man, and this is why Jesus is called the Second Adam.  Death had been brought into the world at an earlier time, and the savior comes to defeat death.  Without the Goddess, the God couldn’t manifest in order to accomplish this.  The Goddess gives form.  The Virgin Mary gave Jesus his body, and when Jesus was placed into the womb of the cave his spiritual body was given form.

The name Mary has its most likely etymological origin in the Egyptian epithet of meri which means ‘beloved’.  This epithet could apply to any god or goddess, but Isis became increasingly popular.  By Roman times, shrines and temples of her were found widely to the very borders of the Empire and beyond.  The image of Isis nursing Horus is also the most likely prototype of the image of Mary nursing Jesus.  To this day, some of the Black Madonnas worshipped in Europe were originally Isis statues.  The importance of this meri epithet is that it represented an ideal of love.  In earlier Egyptian culture, love was something given by a superior to a subordinate.  This was the relationship of the worshipper to an Emperor or to a god.  Sometime around the New Kingdom (16th to 11th century BCE), the understanding of love changed.  Love became an ideal of equality.  A god didn’t just offer love but also received love.  The believer could join their god in a relationship of love.

This seems related to the Axial Age (800 to 200 BCE). Some common traits of the Axial Age religious traditions: a quest for human meaning, reverence for the human worth of individuals, establishment of a compassionate moral code, idealization of an absolute and eternal reality beyond the mind and senses, development of a spiritual elite and travelling scholars, questioning gender roles in particular in terms of Patriarchy, and a challenging of authority.  The latter is interesting because of the ideal within Christianity of martyrdom, but Christianity was a later emergence of Axial Age principles.  Christianity inherited its martyrdom tradition from the Stoics who challenged authority in the hopes of being persecuted.  Also, in challenging authority, Axial Age prophets challenged the rulling religious dogma which included the gods and the conceptions of the gods.  This led to a popularization of monotheism and monism, but it also led to the first signs of atheist philosophy.  Also, allegorical thinking was developed.  Stories and personifications were symbols of a higher truth, but were deceiving and even idolatrous if taken literally.

As you can see, Christian moral ideals and understandings didn’t arise within a vacuum.  Just like every mythological motif, the cherished values of Christianity preceeded Christianity.

Egyptian Symbols within Christianity

Besides the obvious crosses and crucifixes in many religions across the world that predated Christianity, there are also other non-Christian symbols found within Christianity.  As I’ve been focusing on Egypt lately, I’ll give two examples from that culture.  But realize there are many other such symbolic similarities that can also be shown.  I also chose the following quote because the author demonstrates that early Christians (including Augustine) were aware of these symbols and their meaning.

The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur

pp 88-89: The Egyptian Christ, manifested in the sign of Pisces, was fore-ordained to be Ichthys (Greek word for “fish”), the fisherman and to be accompanied by fishermen followers.  Doctrinally, he was the “fisher of men”.  Horus, the best-known Egyptian Christ figure was associated  from time immemorial with the fish, and Massey’s Natural Genesis features a reproduction of an Egyptian engraving showing Horus holding a fish above his head.  Several of the early Christian Fathers refer to Christ also as Ichthys, or “that great fish,” and the mitre worn by succeeding popes “in the the shoes of the fishermen” is shaped exactly like a fish’s mouth.  It’s well known that the Greek word ichthys forms an acrostic meaning “Jesus Christ the Son of God (Our) Savior.”  Having been in Rome numerous times during my dozen years covering religion around the world for the Toronto Star, I have seen first-hand how frequently the outline of a fish occurs in catacombs as a Christian symbol.  It also doubled as a sign of the Eucharist.  Prosper Africanus, an early Christian theologian, calls Christ “that great fish who fed from himself the disciples on the shore and offered himself as a fish to the world.”  Commenting on this same passage from the end of John’s Gospel, St. Augustine says that the broiled fish in the story “is Christ.”  The art found in ancient Egyptian tombs commonly shows fish, fishermen, nets, and fishtraps of varying kinds.  All have the same spiritual meaning.

Much more important, however, is the fact that the Egyptian texts bear witness to an “only begotten god” (meaning begotten of one parent only), whose symbol was the beetle because in ancient science this creature was thought to be “self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Massey says, “The only begotten god is a well-known type [symbol], then, of divinity worshipped in Egypt.  In each cult, the Messiah-son and manifestor was the only-begotten god.  This, according to the Egyptian text, is the Christ, the Word, the manifestor in John’s Gospel.”  In fact, in one early version of the Greek text of the New Testament’s Gospel of John, the phrase “the only begotten son of God” actually reads “the only begotten god”!  Its very unorthodoxy makes it likely that it is the preferred, original reading.

The truth thus came forcefully home to me that this Egyptian Christ is indeed the express image of the Christ of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and the architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only-begotten God.  I found that the very phraseology of Jonh often echoed the Egyptian texts, which tell of he who was “the Beginning of the becoming, from the first, who made all things but was not made.”  Some of the Fathers of the Church knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine, indeed, writes, “My own good beetle, not so much because he is only begotten (God), not because he, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself” – like the dung beetle.

When the god Osiris came to the earth as a savior, he came as his own son, the child Horus.  He was born “like or as a Word.”  The Egyptian text says that he came to earth as a substitute.  Indeed, an ancient Egyptian festival celebrating the birth of Horus was called “The Day of the Child in His Cradle.”

When Horus comes to earth in the Egyptian story, he is supported or given bread by Seb, who is god of the earth, “the father on earth.”  He is thus the divine father on earth of the messiah-son, who manifests in time.  Just as Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, provides shelter and food for his son, so Seb (Jo-seph) cares for Horus.  The consort of Seb is the mother of heaven, named Nu; Meri (Mary) is another name for the mother of the messiah.  Massey concludes, “Thus Seb and Meri for earth and heaven would afford the two mythic originals for Joseph and Mary as parents of the divine child.”  There are seven different Marys in the four Gospels.  They correspond with uncanny fidelity to seven Marys, or Hathors in the Egyptian stories.