The Significance of Holy Sites Built on Other Holy Sites -- Interim Mithra Madness

One of the few claims made by the site discussed here (background Mithra post here) that is supported by a reference is: ‘Today the Vatican stands where the last sacrament of the Phrygian taurobolium was celebrated.’ (S. Angus, The Mystery Religions, p235)." Although unstated, the point seems to be that this is further evidence that Christianity is derived from Mithraism. I have not been able to verify this claim, either to see what Angus says or the basis for his statement. In any event, even if the assertion is true it does not support the claim that Christianity is derived in some sense from Mithraism or some other mystery religion. Many cultures built holy sites on another culture's previous holy sites. This is not the result of a gradual evolution of, for example, a temple of one religion into a church of another. Instead, it is usually the result of an attempt of one distinct religion to supplant or replace another distinct religion.

My first examples comes from a book I just completed, Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs. After completing his conquest of the Aztec capital, Cortez raized their temple sites and built Catholic churches over them. This was not done as a result of cultural evolution. The human sacrifice oriented Aztec religion developed completely independent of Christianity. Rather, Cortez saw the Aztez religion as an abomination and wanted it wiped out (he likely also wanted to eliminate any potential sites that would encourage a future rebellion).

Next, the Hag Sophia was the crown jewel of Christan churches for hundred of years in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. When Constantinople fell to invading Muslim argumes, the Hag Sophia became a Muslim mosque. Again, this was not because of an evolution from Christianity to Islam in Constantinople, but because of the conquering putting the conquered in their place. There are other examples by both sides of the conflict from before and during the Crusades.

Another example is the former Temple of Venus in Jerusalem. Eusebius records that in an effort to discourage Christianity, Emperor Hadrian built a pagan temple over the reported site of Jesus' resurrection. Obviously, the Temple of Venus was not premised on Christianity and did not evolve from it. Venus worship preexisted Jesus' existence and Christianity's earliest beliefs. Rather, the pagan temple was built on the Christian holy site in an effort to eradicate the religion that served as its basis.

As these examples show, the fact that one religious site was built on another does not prove that the culture building the new site evolved its religious beliefs from the older. Indeed, in many instances, just the opposite is happening. A new culture is intentionally using its own religious system to suppress the old one.


Mithraism is an interesting subject. My firm opinion, though, is that the early church and Mithraism were separate from one another, but that as time went on both drew from one another as a form of syncretism.

Thus by the 2nd or 3rd century AD, the Christian church would've taken on board some Mithraic beliefs and practices. Sol Invictus for one.

The New Testament, though, as a record of the early church's beliefs and practices was not, however, influenced by Mithraism I would think since it was so obviously pagan.
Franz Cumont is quoted by all Jesus myth sources because they think he's a major source in support of the copy cat idea. But the reality of it is in his book where he does talk about the possibility of Christianity coming from Mithrism he finds that they two where hardly ever together in the same palce. the only evdience we have for Mithrism comes from after the time of Paul, so there is no evidence to support that view because we can't establish what it was like before.

Cumont was the great expert on the subject at the early part of the 20th century. The current great expert is David Ullancy who says that Mithrism wasn't even connected to the the Mithras of the Persian cult and it was just a cover for another cult worshiping a different god (not Chrsit). So it's totally unlikely that it copied Christianity when it was really comping another view altogether.

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